End of the Hurricane

An imprisoned Carter in the late 1960s (Getty Images)

An imprisoned Carter in the late 1960s (Getty Images)

Here comes the story of the Hurricane,

The man the authorities came to blame

For something that he never done,

Put him in a prison cell but one time he could-a been

The champion of the world.

–  Bob Dylan, “Hurricane”

Farewell to Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, the former boxer declared one of the best middleweight contenders by Ring magazine in 1963 and wrongly convicted three years later for a triple murder in New Jersey.

Carter spent 19 years in prison before his conviction was overturned by a federal judge in 1985 and he was released. And early Sunday morning, the 76-year-old passed away in Toronto of complications related to prostate cancer.

Like many of my American contemporaries, I likely heard of Rubin Carter in the 1975 Bob Dylan song “Hurricane,” but since I was only four years old at the time, it didn’t really register. This changed in 1999 with the release of the Denzel Washington film Hurricane, and from that point on I was a Rubin Carter fan.

Whether or not you believe Carter to be innocent or guilty, the fact is that he and his friend John Artis—who was with Carter on the night of the shootings and during his final moments alive—never got a fair trial. They accepted their sentences, however unjust, and Carter even served as executive director of the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Accused (AIDWYC) after being given his freedom.

Does that sound like something a guilty man would do? I don’t think so.

Carter with actor Denzel Washington and heavyweight champ Evander Holyfield (AP)

Carter with actor Denzel Washington and heavyweight champ Evander Holyfield (AP)

Carter went on to work as a motivational speaker and received two honorary Doctorates of Law—one from Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia, and the other from York University in Toronto. Both degrees recognized his work with the Innocence Project—an organization focusing on the exoneration of wrongly convicted people, primarily through DNA testing—as well as the AIDWYC. He even won the Abolition Award from the Death Penalty Focus group in 1996.

In other words, Rubin “Hurricane” Carter took whatever life threw at him—no matter how negative and unfair—and came out the other side to affect positive change and to help others. And for that he deserves our gratitude.

Rest easy, Rubin. And know that I will always replace could-a been with was in Bob Dylan’s song because you were a champion of the world… just not in boxing.

Posted on April 20, 2014, in Perspectives and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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