I met the late Rubin "Hurricane" Carter in 1999 when he was doing interviews to promote the Denzel Washington movie, The Hurricane. He was smart and smooth and enjoying the moment. First Bob Dylan ("How can the life of such a man/ Be in the palm of some fool's hand? /To see him obviously framed /Couldn't help but make me feel ashamed to live in a land /Where justice is a game.") , now Denzel Washington were exonerating the twice-convicted accused triple-murderer. Pop culture had fully acquited Carter.
But even back in 1975, as Dylan's tune was rising in the charts on its way to US # 33, propelled by a Madison Square Garden benefit concert with Muhammed Ali in attendance and the band in white face, at least one of his friends had her doubts.
Joni Mitchell had talked to Hurricane Carter a few times on the phone "and I was alone in perceiving that he was a violent person and an opportunist. I thought 'Oh my God, we're a bunch of patsy white liberals. This is a bad person. He's fakin' it'."
Rubin "Hurricane" Carter had been convicted alongside John Artis of a 1966 triple murder at a Paterson, New Jersey bar. Cops stopped the two men in a car matching witness descriptions with guns the same gauge as those used in the murder. Dylan describes the court case that sent Carter to prison for life :
All of Rubin's cards were marked in advance
The trial was a pig-circus he never had a chance
The judge made Rubin's witnesses drunkards from the slums
To the white folks who watched he was a revolutionary bum
And to the black folks he was just a crazy nigger
No one doubted that he pulled the trigger
And though they could not produce the gun
The DA said he was the one who did the deed
And the all-white jury agreed.
Dylan was inspired to write "The Hurricane" after reading Carter's book , The 16th Round. He and Jacques Levy were convinced Carter had been framed.
But by late January of 1976, he quit playing "The Hurricane". The publicity Dylan had drummed up got Hurricane Carter in front a judge who released the boxer from prison in March of 1976. The next day Carter beat up a woman who had spent half a year working on his release. In November, Carter was retried and found guilty. In 1985, he was released on procedural grounds after spending nineteen years behinds bars.
As The Hurricane movie received more attention during awards season, it became clear that the film had glossed over many of the facts of Carter's life and the case itself.
At the Golden Globes, Denzel Washington put his arm around Carter and said "This man right here is love".
I'm not convinced one way or another. Sixteen years later, I can't shake the feeling that I might have sat across from a cool killer.