James S. Hirsch (2000) Hurricane, The Life of Rubin Carter, Fighter.

I guess those of us that have been kept under house arrest for a week or more, might have a little more sympathy for Ruben Carter, fitted up, for a triple murder and served nineteen years. His co-defendant, John Artis served more than fifteen years. He too refused to bend, plead guilty or finger Carter as a murderer, even though it would have got him out of prison earlier. The focus of the prosecutors of Paterson, New Jersey was so much on Carter that they dropped the ball and didn’t include Artis’s name on an appeal to U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals. Rubin Carter was guilty of drinking, womanising and being quick with his fists. He’d once knocked out a horse with a punch (like the fictional character Mongo did in Blazing Saddles). But Carter was an ex-marine and professional boxer, a face in Paterson and beyond its pubs and clubs having fought for the middle-weight World Boxing Championship and lost—on a count many thought was unfair. He’d a criminal record and guns, lots of guns, but as Bertha, Ruben’s mother, in her nineties when he was finally released said in June 1998, ‘If you’d told me he walked into a bar and beat them to death, I’d said he did it.’

His sister said of the triple murder of three white men in June 1966, ‘But he was never raised to go anywhere to shoot them down like dogs. We were not raised like that.’

Ruben Carter and John Artis were taken in for questioning on the night of the shootings, but released. Both submitted to polygraph tests which they passed. The black suspects were said to be around the same height and build. Amis was a head bigger than Carter and one of those shot said, at the time, it wasn’t them. No motive was established for the shooting. In its place was placed the notion that it was a hate crime. Carter and Artis had indiscriminately killed and injured drinkers in the tavern because of an earlier shooting of a black man. Carter figured they were tied in with November elections, being tough on black crime. In October 1966 mystery witnesses were unearthed, from police custody on other cases they had been investigating. Witnesses willing to cop a plea and go free, if they did what they were told.  

Twelve white jurors found two black men guilty of triple murder. Fake news. Fake evidence. Falsified accounts. Fake forensics. Witness statements placed them at the scene of the crime. A white judge gave Carter three life sentences to run concurrently. Carter wondered why they didn’t just give him the electric chair, burn him. Artis was sentence to two life sentences. Carter was the perceived threat, Artis collateral damage.

Carter was familiar with Trenton State Prison. Carter refused to bow and be part of the prison system. Refused to wear mandatory prison uniform or work in the prison system. He was fighting the system. ‘The state always wins’.

Institutionalisation Carter found was not about bars on the outside, but bars on the inside. Blinkers placed on the mind. He educated himself and fought for a re-trial. He fought for justice.

Here’s where Carter becomes a cause celebre, Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier before fighting the Thriller in Manila in 1975, both came out in Carter’s corner, saying he a great man, unjustly imprisoned. Bob Dylan visited him in prison. At this time it was an open prison, rather cushy for Dylan’s liking so they had to fabricate some bars, and push them between them for a photo opportunity. A protest song ‘Hurricane’ headlined Dylan’s tour.

  Here we have the triumphant ending. The stories of adversities overcome. Carter and Amis are allowed out of jail, pending a re-trial.

In fiction, roundabout this point, someone in the camp turns against you. In this case it was a woman supporter of Carter, a black woman that said Carter beat her up and tried to kill her. Now is the time for his celebrity support to fall away. They get sent back to prison to complete their sentence.

A common story, Carter and Amis forgotten as the world moves on. As a work of fiction you’d be accused of exaggeration if somehow Carter responds to a letter from a young black kid, and somehow that hooks him into a Canadian commune, who work tirelessly for his release and pay over $400 000 in legal fees. It does seem a bit too far-fetched, but truth comes in many forms.

Lies about the threat of the black man remain monotone. The United States jails more of its citizens than all other nations combined.  Recidivism rates nowadays are almost 50%. They let you out, but then they bring you back again – especially if you’re a black man. Britain closely follows this failing and financially crippling model of moral ineptitude.

Hurricane Carter does get out, despite the state prosecutors using every dirty trick in the book to keep him inside. But with the money and support of the Canadian commune members who hid him and acted as a bulwark against doing anything stupid—like hitting an officer of the law—and confirming he was a danger to society. This is not a story of triumph. This not a story of adversity overcome. This is an everyday story of how things work. As Carter said, if it could happen to Artis, it could happen to anyone. It does. It does. It still does. And with the moron’s moron in the White House things have become worse than the mid-sixties when the Hurricane was taken into custody for having the wrong face and skin colour. Things change but remain the same—if you’re black or poor, or both. Prison is your natural home. Expect no mercy. Justice is only for some.  

The Bleeder, BBC iPlayer, Director Philippe Falardeau.

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Sometimes you just hit upon a movie you know you’re going to love. Here it is. As surely as any movie written or starring Simon Pegg (or even an actor that looks like Pegg) is going to be a going to be a stinker, The Bleeder is a knock-out. I’m not a big boxing fan. Yeh, sure I remember the Rumble in the Jungle and Ali v’s Frazier. I watched them on BBC in the same way that I later watched Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe playing tennis. I didn’t care who won and if I never saw another boxing or tennis match for the rest of my life I wouldn’t be bothered. So I’d heard of Muhammad Ali, I’d heard of Joe Frazier. I’d heard of George Foreman, but I hadn’t heard of Chuck Wepner. There’s no reason why I should. That would be the equivalent of expecting me to know who the tenth seed at Wimbledon was in 1974.

Chuck Wepner (Liev Schreiber) known as the Bayonne Bleeder was in the top ten of heavyweight champs in the early 1970s. He was known as the Bayonne Bleeder because he came from the city of Bayonne in New Jersey and when he fought he never went down, but bled copiously. In an early scene the fight ref asks to look at his eye injury. It looks like there’s too much blood and he’ll be asked to retire from the bout. His corner-man flings a towel over his bad eye and the ref looks at his other eye, which is also a slit running with blood, but he’s declared fit to fight. That reminded me of when a referee asked to see our stud football studs at the beginning of a match on the gravel parks. Martin McGowan showed him his good boot, with no aluminium studs in it, then put his hand on the ref’s shoulder as if to support himself, twirled around and showed him the same boot, but from a different angle. If we were making a movie of it, McGowan would have went on to score a hat-trick with his illegal boot. The Bayonne Bleeder also goes on to win his bout. There was talk of him getting a title shot and pay day against George Foreman, who’s knocking everybody out for fun and thought to be unbeatable. Chuck knows his chances aren’t good, but like most other boxers, he’s got a day job and it would be a big pay day. When Ali does his rope-a-dope on Foreman, Chuck things his chance of glory is gone.

He’s a delicious looking wife Phyllis (Elisabeth Moss) to support and they have a daughter they adore. He writes his wife poems telling her how much he loves her, but he’s a man’s man that likes to play. He’s took a toot of this new wonder drug they call cocaine and it really does make the routine day wonderful. Chuck also has problems keeping his hands in the mitts. He likes to go the full fifteen rounds with any willing female. Phyllis catches up with Chuck and one of his floozies in a diner. There was only going to be one winner.

Remember when Rocky chases the chicken, but can’t catch it. Phyllis dumps the Bleeder. She’s had enough and goes to live with her mother. Then this match comes. Don King plays the race card. Muhammad Ali after beating Foreman is on a high and they want to cash in on some easy money. Ali versus the Bleeder. It’s Chuck’s big chance to be heavy- weight champion of the world. We know that Rocky goes into serious training and starts hitting rumps of meat in the deep-freeze. Chuck goes to the Catskills and does what a real professional is meant to do, he trains hard and just hopes he’s be able to finish the fight. Odds of 40-1 are being offered for Chuck to go the full fifteen rounds.  Phyllis his wife is back on board. And to quote another great film, Someone Up There Likes Me.

In the first fight after Foreman, Muhammad Ali fought Chuck. Chuck didn’t win. This isn’t Rocky, although the film was a what-if, what-if when Chuck really did put Muhammad down, Ali stayed down and Chuck became the new, white, heavyweight champion of the world, spawning a whole franchise of movies in which Rocky fought everyone from the Russians to the man on the moon and still bled and found himself, after a typically bruising  and bleeding encounter, still on top of the world. For the record, Chuck lost and was knocked out with 20 seconds remaining of the fifteen rounds. A moral victory, of sorts.

Part of the greatness of this film is what happened next. Chuck snorted and womanised and pissed it all away. The teeny tiny figure of  Sylvester Stallone   (Morgan Spector) offers him a part in his latest movie, but the big, for real, Bleeder, can’t stay straight enough to make the cut. The next time Stallone offers to meet Chuck is when the former is filming his latest movie, Prison Break, in the same prison where Chuck is serving time for dealing drugs.

This being America, Chuck does find redemption in an old flame, Linda (Naomi Watts) who waits for him and puts him on the straight and narrow. Billed as Rocky for real, this is much better. WATCH and WEEP. No bleeding about it.