The other night I was watching the boxing program on ESPN Classic. It was an early 1960s fight with Ruben “Hurricane” Carter. I hadn’t thought about him in years. The only thing I remembered was the song that Bob Dylan wrote about him in 1975, called “Hurricane”. I had never seen him in the ring. Or seen the movie, “Hurricane” with Denzel Washington playing Carter.
Carter had a string of petty crimes behind him when, in 1966, two black men burst into the Lafayette Bar and Grill in Paterson, New Jersey and began shooting. Several people were killed. Carter along with his alleged accomplice, John Artis, were found a half hour later in a nearby car that matched the getaway vehicle.
They were sentenced to life imprisonment despite the fact tat there were no fingerprints, paraffin tests, or witnesses that could positively identify them. There were two convictions, then an appeal that succeeded because of many holes in the prosecution’s case.
Certainly Dylan’s 1975 song brought national attention to Carter’s case. Dylan even performed at the Trenton State Prison, where Carter was an inmate.
Carter was released in 1985. He since moved to Toronto, has a son, and has been a motivational speaker, received two honorary Doctorates of Law from York University, Toronto, and Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia.Dylan’s song “Hurricane” spoke about a “crime that he (Carter) “had never done”. This was long before DNA evidence. It shows, once again, the power of music to address injustice and bring it before the larger public.