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.