~ Amy Lignor
Rubin “Hurricane” Carter: that was his name. Being a middleweight boxer was his game. But the headlines this morning are not speaking as much about his boxing career as they are the murder convictions that kept him in prison for almost twenty years.
To get it out of the way…it was in 1966, that police arrested Carter and his friend for a triple-homicide that took place in New Jersey. With no fingerprints; no paraffin test; and no eyewitnesses able to identify Carter or his friend as the actual shooters – the end result was odd: a conviction for both. Convictions occurred twice (1967 & 1976); however, the second conviction was overturned in 1985.
There was (and still is) a great deal of discussion regarding the fact that the whole scenario came about because of racism. With no physical evidence, in 2014 (hopefully), Carter would not only have been found not-guilty, but chances are he would have been left alone completely. But this was the 1960’s. and having an all-white jury convict two black men with no evidence, spotlighted the racial tensions of the time. And it was doubly sad that Rubin Carter was, at the exact same time he was being arrested, a true contender for the world middleweight title.
The ‘race card’ reporters speak about was played a great deal in the 60s. The streets were angry. People were seen by color and not by soul. There were riots everywhere: Watts and Harlem were two such areas that saw riots, leaving thirteen black children killed by the police. And even though the horrific times of ‘hating one another’ is a large part of Rubin Carter’s history, and will remain as what NOT to do for the rest of time, he still had many amazing things in his life that should also be remembered at this time.
Training in the armed services, Rubin did begin to box. Unfortunately, just as he was making something out of himself, a discharge came along and sent Rubin down a bad road. Arrested for escaping from the Jamesburg Home for Boys, Carter then went on to commit other crimes that he pled guilty to and served time for.
But his story didn’t end there. He didn’t give up. Or, perhaps, someone above did not give up on him. It was in 1961, that Rubin Carter seemed to dump that awful life and move on to the professional boxing world. Being less than 6-feet-tall, he was shorter than the average middleweight, but his punching power was unmatched. Just look at the list of early-round knockouts if you don’t believe me. He was a crowd favorite, and because of his strength and quickness – going after the enemy tooth-and-nail the minute the bell struck – the fans titled him, “Hurricane”.
In 1963 his career was going strong, being listed as one of the “Top Middleweight Contenders”. And it was on December 20, 1963, that Rubin shocked the world by beating the past and future world champion, Emile Griffith, twice in the very first round. He became the number three contender for the middleweight title after that, barking at Joey Giardello’s heels. Unfortunately, when meeting Giardello, Rubin ended up losing the match.
Although his career began to slip after that, most likely nursing his mental wounds, Rubin’s career record was a good one: 27 wins, 12 losses, and one draw in 40 fights. For this, he received an honorary championship title belt from the World Boxing Council and later found himself honored yet again by being inducted into the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame.
Was Rubin Carter perfect? Absolutely not. Was he a man who made mistakes and committed wrongs against people? Absolutely. And he paid for his crimes. What he did not have to pay for, however, was a triple-homicide that had him sitting in jail for almost two decades for a crime he did not commit. There is always a chance that Carter, if not locked away, could have built his esteem back up and actually won that title fight later on. He, like all of us, did have a chance to shine.
Will he be remembered like Ali? No. But Rubin Carter’s story is an important one. Our headlines still show crimes of hate, racism, anger…it’s as if no matter what this country does, we simply can not find a way to accept each other for WHO we are and NOT what color our skin happens to be. It would be wonderful if the next generation…or the next after that…could somehow find a way to understand that in order for America to stand proud, strong and tall, we HAVE to stand together.