Spartacist Canada No. 181
Honouring Rubin "Hurricane" Carter 1937-2014
The following article is adapted from Workers Vanguard No. 1045, 2 May, newspaper of the Spartacist League/U.S.
Rubin Carter died at his home in Toronto on April 20, succumbing to prostate cancer at the age of 76. A one-time middleweight boxing contender known as the “Hurricane,” Carter was the victim of a vicious racist frame-up on bogus murder charges in New Jersey, where he was imprisoned for 19 years. After his exoneration in 1988, Carter dedicated himself to the cause of prisoners who were wrongly convicted, for the last decade as the founder and CEO of Innocence International. The Spartacist League/U.S., Trotskyist League/Ligue trotskyste and Partisan Defense Committee were steadfast in supporting his fight for freedom and greatly appreciated his involvement in our efforts to win freedom for Mumia Abu-Jamal. A class-war prisoner who spent 30 years on death row, Mumia is now consigned to life in prison on what Carter recognized as equally ludicrous murder charges. Hurricane will be sorely missed.
Carter became a police/FBI target for his advocacy of black armed self-defense. Regarding the 1964 cop riot against black residents of Harlem who were protesting the shooting of 15-year-old James Powell by an off-duty officer, Carter told a Saturday Evening Post reporter: “When scores of children were being trampled, stomped, and mutilated by a legion of club-wielding police—while other cops held their guns to the children’s heads—the black community should have arisen right then and fought to their deaths in the streets, if it was necessary. Because self-protection is the absolute right of every living being on the face of the earth.” Depicting Carter’s statement as a call to kill cops, the Saturday Evening Post article made Carter a marked man. The Hurricane was repeatedly hauled in by Paterson, New Jersey, cops on traffic citations and other bogus charges and harassed by police in just about every city where he went to box.
Carter increasingly chose to box abroad. Prior to a 1965 bout in South Africa, his guide was Steve Biko, a young anti-apartheid fighter who went on to become a leader of the Black Consciousness Movement and was murdered by his apartheid jailers in 1977. To aid the black freedom struggle in South Africa, Carter bought enough guns in the U.S. to fill four duffel bags, which he delivered to the outlawed African National Congress upon returning to South Africa in February 1966.
Not long after, Paterson cops seized on the fatal shooting of two white men and a white woman at the Lafayette Bar and Grill on June 17 to go after him. Carter and his friend John Artis were picked up by police “looking for two Negroes in a white car.” When Carter and Artis passed lie detector tests and eyewitnesses failed to identify them as the alleged killers, they were released. Four months later, Carter and Artis were charged with the murders.
As the 1975 Bob Dylan song “Hurricane” put it: “The trial was a pig circus, he never had a chance.” The cops never dusted the murder scene for fingerprints, nor found the murder weapons, nor tested alleged suspects immediately after the killings for gunpowder residue. The only “evidence” was a statement four months after the fact by two local criminals, Alfred Bello and Arthur Bradley, “identifying” Carter and Artis as the killers. Bello and Bradley, who were supposedly carrying out a burglary nearby and had themselves been suspects in the killings, became the state’s chief witnesses. In return, burglary charges against them were dropped and they were given a $10,500 reward. Cops and prosecutors also intimidated most of the defense witnesses into silence. In May 1967, Carter and Artis were convicted by an all-white jury in Paterson, a city whose population was one-third black.
Seven years after the trial, Bello and Bradley admitted to New York Times reporter Selwyn Raab and an investigator that their testimony was a lie. In September 1974, Raab’s exposé appeared on the paper’s front page and Carter’s autobiography The Sixteenth Round hit the bookstores. Movie stars, popular sports figures and prominent bourgeois politicians flocked to Carter’s case. Muhammad Ali became cochair of Carter’s defense committee. In 1975, the New Jersey Supreme Court ordered a new trial.
The second trial was an even greater travesty than the first. The prosecution coerced Bello to repudiate his admission of perjury, while suppressing a polygraph test that showed this repudiation to be a lie. Bradley was offered a deal on a pending indictment, which he refused, but was intimidated to not testify for the defense. Meanwhile, Raab was barred from the courtroom. Having presented no motive for the triple slaying in the first trial, the prosecution “discovered” one nine years later: the social unrest of the 1960s and Carter’s militant views. It was claimed that Carter and Artis had been driven by “revenge” for the killing of a black bartender earlier the same night.
Carter and Artis were convicted a second time and sentenced to life terms. Their liberal and celebrity supporters deserted them in droves. Having gotten the new trial they demanded, the liberals were satisfied that justice had been served. Few turned out for the trial and there were no mass protests after Carter’s reconviction.
Artis was released on parole in 1981. Carter’s conviction was finally overturned in 1985 by U.S. district court judge H. Lee Sarokin who declared, “The extensive record clearly demonstrates that petitioner’s convictions were predicated upon an appeal to racism rather than reason, and concealment rather than disclosure.” Even after Hurricane’s release, the Harlem-based Amsterdam News (16 November 1985) peddled the line of the cops and prosecutors, portraying Carter as a “bad dude” who was “capable” of committing the murders. In a protest letter to the paper (which it refused to publish), the PDC wrote: “It is particularly indecent for the Amsterdam News, a newspaper which promotes itself as ‘the new Black view,’ to join the vindictive prosecution attempt to railroad Carter back to that prison hellhole for life” (WV No. 392, 29 November 1985). It was not until 1988 that the prosecution ceased its effort to put him back behind bars.
The PDC contributed to the Carter/Artis defense and regularly attended the 1976 retrial. The PDC was later personally invited to Carter’s 29 February 1988 press conference after the prosecution finally threw in the towel. At its close, a PDC representative congratulated Carter, who said warmly, “I would like to thank you people for all your support.” He recalled that after his release in 1985, we sent a small holiday gift that he returned, explaining: “From what I’ve seen since my release from prison, these funds should be better used for the benefit of someone less fortunate than I—like the homeless, the hungry, or those poor people who still remain in prison.”
The obituaries of Carter in the bourgeois press have lauded his dedication to winning freedom for those in prison for crimes they did not commit. Even the New York Daily News cited Carter’s effort as he was dying to convince the Brooklyn district attorney to review the case of David McCallum, a black man convicted in 1986 of kidnapping and murder at the age of 16. McCallum’s conviction was based solely on a coerced confession that was immediately recanted and appears to have no correlation with the physical evidence and known facts.
Not surprising is the media’s failure to make any reference to one innocent man whose freedom Carter has championed, Mumia Abu-Jamal. Evidence of Mumia’s innocence goes directly into the newsroom shredder. In addressing a March 1995 PDC-initiated rally for Mumia in Toronto, Carter noted that after reviewing materials about Mumia’s frame-up: “I detected a foul but familiar odour emanating from the documents. And the more I read, the stronger the odour got. It was a stench that at one time I had hoped was limited to New Jersey, but which I soon discovered is associated with cases of wrongful conviction everywhere” (“Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter Speaks Out for Jamal,” WV No. 619, 24 March 1995).
We honour Hurricane by continuing our fight to free Mumia and all the class-war prisoners. In doing so, we seek to instill in class-conscious workers and the oppressed the understanding that only socialist revolution can put the racist frame-up machine out of business once and for all.