Conflict of the Hurricane

Ruben Hurricane Carter was born May 6 1937.  He is an African American, who was a middleweight boxer between 1961 and 1966.  He is best known for the very controversial trial and conviction in 1967 and 1976 for three murders in Paterson New, Jersey on June 1966 and his release from prison in 1985.

The controversy stems from the question of whether or not Carter is actually guilty.  What is known, and what only adds to the mystery of Carter circumstance is that: the criminal justice system either released a triple murderer from the punishment that two separate juries laid down for him, or it imprisoned an innocent man for almost twenty years.  In 1999, a film depicting Ruben Hurricane Carter’s life was produced starring Denzel Washington.

Whether the Carter is innocent or not, he was eventually released by the criminal justice system, which poses possibility that they acknowledge they made a mistake.  Most people convicted of triple murder if not sentenced to death would be put in jail for three consecutive life sentences in the 60’s. The idea was that the defense would have to appeal all three sentences, which would be virtually impossible to do.  It is undeniable that popular culture deems the criminal justice system to have performed a grievous injustice in the case of Ruben Hurricane Carter.

This can be seen in the popularity of the Bob Dillon song Hurricane and in the fact that Hollywood made this film and it was nominated for an Oscar.  Despite this acclaimed reception, there are still many critics who argue against the films authenticity, claiming the film put Ruben in an in-genuinely positive light for the sake of vilifying the criminal justice system.

The film was criticized for having many factual inaccuracies pertaining to Carter’s military records, police reports and court documents.  Such inaccuracies have been revealed by: Herald-News reporter Cal Deal; Thomas Clough; Barbara Burns, the daughter of victim Hazel Tanis; Milan Simonich of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; The New York Times reporter Selwyn Raab; and Jack Newfield of the New York Post.  Jack Newfield is quoted as saying, I knew Rubin Carter, attended his fights, covered his retrial and I didn’t see much reality on the screen.

Examples of the factual inaccuracies include: that he didn’t stab a pedophile to protect himself and a friend, but was actually hitting a man over the head with a bottle after robbing him; prior to his professional boxing career he was convicted of three muggings; during military service he was court-martialed four times and discharged for being unfit, drastically contrasting the scene in the film where he returns home as a decorated soldier.

Obviously all of these details were fabricated, or eliminated from the film to make Carter appear more innocent.  It is safe to say that if this information had been depicted accurately then the film would not have had such a heart wrenching effect on the audience.  The problem occurs in that by not depicting the information accurately, a bias is created that can’t be trusted, and it only sheds doubt on the merit of Carter’s release.

            The film is undeniably a product of the same political push that was used to get Carter out of jail.  The American criminal Justice system has proven itself to be bias and prejudice in many of its actions over the years.  As public opinion has matured, so has the justice system to some degree.  Carter’s story is proof that the people do have a say in legal process and that the court does not have to always be the final judgment.  This is an uplifting message and one that is perfect for liberal Hollywood to deliver to the public; but the film’s depiction Carter’s life is more a depiction of a fictional persona that was created to incite his release.  American popular culture took the story of Ruben Hurricane Carter and virtually turned it into a socialist urban myth.  From Bob Dillon’s song, to t-shirts demanding Carter’s release, and finally the film, those who unaware of whether Carter has been released yet, or even if he is a real person, use his story as a protest against the American criminal Justice system.  It is valiant that Carter’s life was able to serve a greater purpose than his own, but it also leads to falsification.

The film depicts Hurricane Carter as a noble highly decorated man returning from the military who only drinks soda pop at bars.  It is hard to believe that this type of person would find himself as the main suspect in a triple homicide case. As previously revealed, this was not the actual persona of Carter, but it definitely is a good image for the public to hold onto.  It makes the social injustice that happens to Carter all the more villainous, and motivates communities to support his release.  This is social politics and the way things tend to get done when dealing with the political or legal system.

An innocent clean cut image of Carter had to be created in order to garner support for his release.  This does not mean he did not commit the crime for which he was convicted.  It just means that over time it became a popular acknowledgement that Carter was convicted more for his race and the merit of his past actions and personality than the crime itself.  The urban myth that created in his support was a product of his defense and the public’s attempt to track back and revamp the initial perception used to convict him.

In sum, the contrast between fiction and reality is very vague.  In my opinion this film only more complicates this distinction.  Despite this it has no relevant say on whether or not the actual man Ruben Hurricane Carter is innocent.  His case was disregarded by the criminal justice system and he was freed from prison, after being convicted and serving almost 20 years.  I think this was done not because he was innocent, but because those officials of the justice system in the mid 80’s were aware of the discrepancies within their system during the 60’s, and there was enough political push from outside the system to earn Carter the benefit of the doubt.

Maybe if the film was produced in a more factually authentic manner, it would clarify some of this doubt; but, by fabricating the past it only more polarizes the debate over Carter’s innocence.  Carter may very well have killed those three people; he had a history of violence in both his childhood and in the military, but the controversy arose in the fact that he was never triad for this crime.  In the racially charged and prejudiced era that his trial occurred, Carter was charged for his unforgivable blackness.

He warranted the suspicions of the undeniably racist justice system because he was a strong black man who happened to be reckless, to his own tragic detriment.  White males, specifically the Italians and the Irish have been praised by American society for having the same characteristics for which Carter was condemned.  The disdain America has for strong black men has been prevalent for years, and it is inherent in the structure of the country, which has been made in the image of its white male majority.

Carter was convicted more for who he was than for any crime he may have committed.  In the end, he was released for the same reason that he was convicted, because he was in the public eye.  If this had happened to another black male with even half the history of violence, it’s reasonable to say, he would still be in prison serving this sentence.

Work Cited

Deal, Cal. "The Hurricane" Misleads a Trusting Public. Article detailing inaccuracies.Retrieved on October 23, 2006.

Elder, Larry. "Hurricane" warning. Jewish World Review (Feb 4 2000). Retrieved on 2006-10-23.