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Ear to the Ground

Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter, Boxer and Fighter Against Racial Injustice, Dies at 76

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Posted on Apr 20, 2014

  Former boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, who spent nearly 20 years in prison after being falsely convicted of a triple murder, holds up the writ of habeas corpus that freed him from prison during a news conference in Sacramento, Calif., in 2004. AP/Rich Pedroncelli

Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, the middleweight boxer whose life outside the ring took on as much significance as his sports career when he was charged with murder in 1966, died in Toronto on Sunday after a battle with prostate cancer. He was 76.

The story of Carter’s rise to prominence in his sport and his fight to clear his name after being accused of killing three white people in a New Jersey bar was the subject of the 1999 movie “The Hurricane” starring Denzel Washington in the title role. Carter’s determined struggle to beat the murder convictions, which he kept up while serving 19 years behind bars, eventually led to his exoneration and made him an iconic figure, as The New York Times noted in his obituary:

Mr. Carter was convicted twice on the same charges of fatally shooting two men and a woman in a Paterson, N.J., tavern in 1966. But both jury verdicts were overturned on different grounds of prosecutorial misconduct.

The legal battles consumed scores of hearings involving recanted testimony, suppressed evidence, allegations of prosecutorial racial bias — Mr. Carter was black and the shooting victims were white — and a failed prosecution appeal to the United States Supreme Court to reinstate the convictions.

Mr. Carter first became famous as a ferocious, charismatic, crowd-pleasing boxer who was known for his shaved head, goatee, glowering visage and devastating left hook. He narrowly lost a fight for the middleweight championship in 1964.

He attracted worldwide attention during the roller-coaster campaign to clear his name of murder charges. Amnesty International described him as a “prisoner of conscience” whose human rights had been violated. He portrayed himself as a victim of injustice who had been framed because he spoke out for civil rights and against police brutality.

Bob Dylan set Carter’s tale to music with the protest song “Hurricane,” which climbed the Top 40 charts a decade after Carter’s initial conviction. Follow this link to watch a live clip of Dylan performing his 1976 hit.

—Posted by Kasia Anderson

Related stories:

Chris Hedges: “The Play’s the Thing”

Sonali Kolhatkar: “Why 15-Year-Old Travion Blount Got More Than 6 Life Sentences for a Crime in Which No One Was Hurt” 

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