I wrote this article for Suite101.com many years ago. It tells the story of boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter (1937-2014), a formidable middleweight contender. He was wrongfully convicted of murder and spent 20 years in prison before finally exonerated. You may know his story from the song that Bob Dylan penned about him “The Hurricane.” Note: Carter passed away in April of 2014, after I wrote this article
As you know, music–especially folk, blues, and classic rock–play an important role in much of my writing. It was writing articles like these that eventually moved me back into writing fiction.
You should also note that this took place in the New York City area, which gives it an even more personal effect on me. I hope that you enjoy this article.
The True Story of the Hurricane
“Pistol shots ring out in the barroom night.” This begins one of Bob Dylan’s most powerful songs, a venomous protest against the fate of one man railroaded by the State of New Jersey, middleweight boxing contender Rubin “Hurricane” Carter.
Rubin “Hurricane” Carter Imprisoned For Murder
On June 17, 1966, two men went on a shooting rampage at the Lafayette Bar and Grill in Patterson, New Jersey. Three people were killed. Two eyewitnesses identified the shooters as two black males, another said that they left in a white car.
Rubin Carter and his friend John Artis were stopped by the police a short while later, as they fit the description of two black males in a white car. According to an article in Time Magazine, the police found a 12 gauge shotgun and .32 Caliber pistol were found in the car. Though they were not identified positively by the witnesses, and no fingerprints of the scene were taken, the pair were arrested a few months later.
During their trial, the State provided two witnesses that identified Carter and Artis. These men, Alfred Bello and Arthur Bradley, were involved in a nearby burglary. Despite Carter and Artis having an alibi, Bello and Bradley’s testimony, combined with circumstantial evidence, was enough to convict Rubin Carter and John Artis. They were sentenced to three life terms.
It was later revealed that Bello and Bradley were offered leniency and money to finger Carter and Artis, and that they both lied about identifying them.
Bob Dylan Visits Carter in Rahway Prison, Inspires Protest Song
In 1974, Rubin Carter published his autobiography, The 16th Round. This book attracted the attention of Bob Dylan, who visited Carter while he was incarcerated in Rahway State Prison, New Jersey. His visit inspired Dylan to write a protest song about Carter.
“Hurricane,” co-written with Jacques Levy (who co-wrote several songs on Dylan’s 1976 album Desire) is told in a cinematic style, uncommon in protest songs. The result is a song that is hard to turn away from.
Dylan played “Hurricane” on every stop on the famed Rolling Thunder Revue Tour of 1975 and ‘76. This exposure helped expose Carter’s case to the masses. Luminaries such as Muhammad Ali joined the fight to free Hurricane Carter from prison.
Dylan was criticized by some for leaving out aspects of the crime, such as Carter’s criminal past (he had been in and out of prison for much of his life before turning to boxing), and questioned his objectivity (which is of course, opposite the reason for a protest song).
Pressure from the public, combined with the two eyewitnesses recanting their testimony, earned Carter and Artis and new trial. Unfortunately, Bello reversed his testimony once again, and the pair were convicted.
Hurricane Carter Case Dismissed
Carter would not be free from these murders until 1988. In the early 80s, Carter developed a friendship with Lesra Martin, a Brooklyn teen who was living in Canada. Martin and her friends, believing in Carter’s innocence, set up a legal defense to get his release. They appealed in Federal Court, and on November 7th 1985, Judge Haddon Lee Sarokin ruled that Carter and Artis had not received a fair trial.
Hurricane Carter was set free, though the State appealed the verdict. In February of 1998, the charges were formally dropped. All together, Rubin Carter served 19 years in prison.
Today, Rubin “Hurricane” Carter lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, where he moved after being set free. Ironically, he would not be free of the police. According to an article in the April 14, 1996 New York Times, Carter was wrongly arrested by Toronto police for selling drugs to an undercover officer. Carter, then 60 years old, was mistaken for a 30 year old suspect.
“Hurricane” continues to be one of Bob Dylan’s more popular songs. It has been covered in concert by other musicians such as Ani Difranco. Dylan himself seems to have had enough of Hurricane Carter. He has not performed the song in concert since 1976.
Like my posts? Follow my website or “Like” my facebook fan page and/or follow me on Twitter. You can also purchase my debut novel, Song of Simon, at any online bookstore or a real one (they both exist).