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Jewish World Review Feb. 4, 2000/ 29 Shevat, 5760

Larry Elder

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"Hurricane" warning -- "HURRICANE" LIES. The movie, that is.

The "true story" of Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, the lead brilliantly portrayed by Denzel Washington, represents perhaps excellent moviemaking, but at great cost -- to the truth.

One summer night in 1966, two black men burst into a bar in Paterson, New Jersey, and killed three whites. In the movie, the police arrested Carter, for virtually no reason. No physical evidence linked him to the crime. An evil detective, obsessed with nabbing Carter, spearheaded this travesty of justice.

The movie further shows Carter losing his middleweight title fight to champion Joey Giardello. The apparently bigoted judges gave the decision to Giardello, though we see Carter pummeling him in the latter rounds.

In the movie, Carter possesses near-sterling integrity, character pure and even noble.

Now the facts. Rubin "Hurricane" Carter was a thug, having spent several years in juvenile detention for muggings. On the eve of his 1964 middleweight title fight, he bragged in the Saturday Evening Post about his savagery, "I stuck a man with my knife. I stabbed him everywhere but the bottom of his feet." Carter also said he and a friend "used to get up and put our guns in our pockets. ... Then we'd go out in the streets and start fighting -- anybody, everybody. We used to shoot at folks."

When out of prison, awaiting his second trial, Carter viciously beat a woman who worked tirelessly to free him.

No physical evidence linking Carter to the crime? Not according to New Jersey Star-Ledger columnist Paul Mulshine, who says police found two bullet shells in Carter's car, shells that fit the weapons used in the shootings.

An eyewitness ID'd the killers and their getaway car. Within minutes, the police apprehended Carter, driving a car that matched the description.

During the first trial, Carter presented several "alibi" witnesses, who placed Carter elsewhere at the time of the crime. During the second trial, however, many of Carter's "alibi" witnesses changed their testimony, stating that they had been bribed by Carter.

In the movie, a Carter defender states that two "all white" juries found Carter guilty. False. The second jury contained two blacks.

Although not mentioned in the movie, Carter claims he passed a lie detector test. Not so, says Jim DeSimone, son of the now deceased out-to-get-Carter detective portrayed in the film. DeSimone says that Carter flunked a lie detector test. Moreover, the authorities offered Carter, on the eve of the second trial, a chance to take a second test. Pass it, they said, and we drop the charges. Flunk it, and we agree not to mention the second test.

Carter refused. Why? If Carter passed the first polygraph, why not a second, and walk away a free man?

The Carter defense team says the police planted evidence. Two juries believed otherwise. And, in the first trial, Carter was represented by defense attorney Ray Brown, considered New Jersey's finest defense lawyer. And the second prosecutor belonged to both the NAACP and the ACLU.

Did the judges steal the middleweight title from Carter? His opponent, Giardello, threatens to sue the moviemakers for defamation. Giardello even posted a web page, which shows the round-by-round video of the fight. Judge for yourself. Giardello won handily, an assessment shared by nearly all sportswriters who attended the bout.

New York Post writer Jack Newfield knew Carter, went to his fights, and covered his second trial. Newfield, sympathetic to Carter, nevertheless rips the movie for distortions. How strongly does Newfield believe in Carter's innocence? In a December 19, 1999, New York Post article, Newfield says, "If Carter and (co-defendant) Artis were innocent -- and I lean in that direction ... " Not exactly the slam-dunk "Carter wuz robbed" declaration made by the movie. For more on the "other side," click here.

Judge Lee Sarokin set aside Carter's second conviction. An "exoneration"? No, Judge Sarokin never called Carter innocent. He ruled that the prosecution erred in advancing a motive theory not, according to the judge, supported by the evidence.

Why does all this matter? After all, even if the movie distorts it, surely America's criminal justice system was, and remains, racist and corrupt. This matters because most children who see this movie know nothing about Carter. The message: no matter who you are, how much you have, how prominent you are, how innocent you are, the white racist criminal justice system stands ready to smash you down.

How bad is the criminal justice system? In the film, a black teenager helps lead the effort to free Carter. And, today, what does he do for a living? Works as a prosecutor.

And it matters for this reason. At the recent Golden Globe Awards, "Hurricane" Carter received a standing ovation from the Hollywood-ites in attendance. Did they love-serenade a man who killed three people? Chilling.

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©1999, Creators Syndicate