Former middleweight boxer Rubin Hurricane Carter, who became a symbol of racial injustice after being wrongfully convicted by an all-white jury of a triple murder, died at the age of 76. According to his caregiver, John Artis, Carter passed away in his sleep in Toronto, Canada, after having a long bout against a foe he couldn’t beat, prostate cancer.
In 1985, a federal judge ruled that Rubin Hurricane Carter and John Artis, a friend of Carter’s who was with him the night the shootings occurred, released them from prison on the grounds that they hadn’t received fair trials.
Rubin Hurricane Carter was known for his hurricane-fast powerful punches. Carter knocked out 11 of the first 15 professional boxers he faced.
However, after Rubin Hurricane Carter lost his only title match in December 1964, a unanimous decision to Joey Giardello, he then went on to lose seven of his last 15 bouts before he was arrested in 1966 for a triple homicide.
Rubin Hurricane Carter never became a champion in the middleweight division. He had a record of 27-12-1 with 19 knockouts. In 1963, one of Carter’s most memorable matches was when he beat two-division champ Emile Griffith in the first round.
The murders took place at the LaFayette Bar and Grill in Paterson, New Jersey. Carter was sentenced to three life terms. He spent 19 years in prison for the three murders though there was no evidence presented other than the testimony of two thieves, Alfred Bello and Arthur Bradley, who recounted their stories later.
Nine years after his conviction by an all-white jury, Rubin Hurricane Carter was briefly released. Bob Dylan had even co-written a song about him, “Hurricane” in 1975.
His release was short-lived, as Carter was retried, and convicted once again. It wasn’t until 1985, after his case had been appealed numerous times and there was a lot of public awareness of the case, that Carter and his eventual caregiver, Artis, were finally freed from prison.
The wrongfully convicted and imprisoned former middleweight boxer didn’t become embittered by his experiences. Rather, he became an advocate for other people in prisons around the country who had been wrongfully convicted.
Besides his plight serving to inspire several books to be written about him, including Carter’s own autobiography, written from prison, “The Sixteenth Round,” published in 1974, Denzel Washington played Carter in the 1999 movie The Hurricane.
Though Rubin Hurricane Carter “lost about 7,300 days of his life,” in the words of Denzel Washington, “He’s all love.” Washington was at the 2000 Golden Globes with Carter when he spoke these words about him.
As Carter told CNN, “Hatred and bitterness and anger only consume the vessel that contains them.” If he had those feelings within him, Carter stated that he “would have never survived prison itself.”
From 1993-2004, Rubin Hurricane Carter became the first executive director of the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted.
As Rubin Hurricane Carter wrote in his 2011 book, “Eye of the Hurricane: My Path from Darkness to Freedom,” he admits to having regrettably committed a series of lesser crimes, such as robberies and assaults; but, not murder.
Carter writes that the crimes he committed came during a time in his life when he did harbor hatred in his soul, for having grown up in a society under Jim Crow laws. The anger he felt, along with his tremendous talent, might have fueled Carter’s initial success and made him one of the most intimidating and powerful boxers of his era.
There were many people who wanted Rubin Hurricane Carter to admit his guilt, as he’d been convicted for the triple murders not once, but twice. But, Carter knew that he had not committed the murders, and that he wasn’t guilty. In a 2011 PBS interview, he said: “And because I was not guilty, I refused to act like a guilty person.”
The boxer was relatively short for his weight division, at 5 foot 8, but his rapid-fire punching style and boxing presence in the ring, with his shaven head, mustache, and glaring eyes, made him a force to be reckoned with.
Though his career had hit a losing skid at the time of his arrest for the triple murders in New Jersey, Rubin Hurricane Carter still had plans to eventually earn a second shot at the middleweight title.
Rubin Hurricane Carter, who passed away from complications due to prostate cancer, was one of the fiercest and most intimidating middleweight boxers of his era, yet he refused to let anger and hatred blind him and make him embittered. Instead, he become a powerful force to right the wrongs that others who had been wrongfully imprisoned had experienced.
Written by: Douglas Cobb