By Tyson Bruce
Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, a boxer who once knocked out the legendary Emile Griffith in a single round, spent nearly 20 years of his life in prison after being wrongfully convicted of a New Jersey triple murder. Carter died on Sunday in Toronto after a long battle with prostate cancer. He was 76 years old.
Carter’s case and controversial autobiography, “The Sixtieth Round” made him a cause celebrity in the 1970’s with musicians like Bob Dylan and Neil Young taking up his cause. Denzel Washington eventually portrayed him in the movie “The Hurricane” and received an Academy Award nomination.
In the ring Carter earned his nickname “The Hurricane” because of his wild, untamed brawling style. Carter was a murderous puncher and legend has it that he was forced to wear customized 20 oz. gloves rather than the traditional 16 when sparring in the gym. As previously mentioned, Carter’s best win came against Emile Griffith but he also fought many other legendary fighters such as Joey Giardello, Dick Tiger, and Holly Mimms.
His dream of winning the middleweight championship would be cut short when he and two other black men, including John Artis, were stopped by New jersey police after a night spent nightclub hopping. The police were searching for two unknown black males that had supposedly killed a bartender and two patrons at a Lafayette bar and grill in Paterson NJ. The police let them go because the description called for two black men, not three.
Despite being let go and not matching the original description, Carter and Artis would again be stopped and arrested later on that same evening. Police took them to a local hospital where the remaining victim, a recipient of a gunshot wound to the head, refused to identify them as the culprits. They were then interrogated, given a lie detector test and told to leave.
Despite a thorough lack of physical evidence, an all-white jury would convict both Carter and Artist in 1967—based largely on the testimony of two petty criminals, Alfred Bello and Arthur Dexter Bradley. Despite becoming famous because of celebrities like Bob Dylan and Muhammad Ali they would be convicted again in 1976.
Carter’s release would come not at the help of world famous celebrities but rather from a Canadian commune and illiterate Brooklyn teenager that would make freeing him their life cause. Carter was finally freed in 1985 when prosecutors refused to press charges for a third time. After being released Carter moved to Toronto where he would become a motivational speaker and lobbyist for the wrongly convicted.
However, after spending so many years behind bars he struggled to find a place for himself in society. He struggled with alcohol usage, which caused the breakup of his marriage and perhaps led to his health problems. Carter was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2011. After hearing of his condition his longtime friend John Artist would leave his life in Virginia to be by his bedside.
Carter’s legacy will endure and his hard life will serve as a reminder of an imperfect and racially biased justice system that exists to this day in America. He will also be remembered as a brave fighter that came closer then most could ever dream of to becoming champion of the world, finishing 27-12-1-(19).