June 17, 1966. 2:30a. Paterson, NJ

17 Jun

Forty-five years ago today, two black men went into the Lafayette Bar & Grill in Paterson, NJ and started shooting.  Two people were killed instantly, another died several weeks later and one man, though he lost sight in one eye, survived.  Despite a lack of firm evidence, boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter was arrested.

He wasn’t a good guy growing up.  By the time he was 25, he had already spent time in a number of prisons and was AWOL from the Army.  But he was good at one thing:  boxing.  And so five years before the murders, upon release from jail, Ruben formally started his boxing career.

He was promptly nicknamed “Hurricane” because of his aggressive punching style.  Let that sink in for a moment.  Though he quickly rose through the middleweight ranks, the year before the murders, in 1965, he was not at his best.  He was losing against the top fighters.  Despite what Bob Dylan later sang (and we’ll get to that soon), he almost certainly would not have been the champion of the world.

But back to the triple homicide.  He was convicted, retried and convicted again and was given two consecutive life sentences.  (That’s a legal idea that has always confused me, but I’ll table that subject for now.)  A lot of people believed he did it.  A lot of people still do.  And a lot of people thought his conviction was based on inherent racism and that no real evidence was ever provided to warrant a conviction.

Advertising legend George Lois did a campaign on Rubin’s behalf.  George Lois once described his work this way: “All I ever tried to do was kick-ass in a big proletariat way” and the Free Hurricane campaign is one of the clearest examples of that.

Of course Bob Dylan was one of the most outspoken critics of Carter’s imprisonment and his brilliant song “Hurricane” (from one of the best albums ever, Desire) brought tons of attention to the case.

In 1985, the second conviction was overturned and the current prosecutors declined to pursue a third conviction.   And so, Rubin “Hurricane” Carter was released.  And here we are, June 17, 2011: 45 years after the fact, 36 years after the song was recorded and 26 years after his ultimate release.

So whether the conviction was justified or an innocent man spent a lot of time in jail for a crime he didn’t commit, at least one good thing did come out of it.  Of course, if he really didn’t commit the crime, I can’t imagine that Rubin “Hurricane” Carter would agree that a stunning Dylan song justified his whole life getting messed up, but what can I say?  I’m just a selfish music lover.

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4 Responses to “June 17, 1966. 2:30a. Paterson, NJ”

  1. Robert Goolrick Leatherinvasion June 17, 2011 at 11:39 am #

    Dylan said recently that he never actually believed a single word of a single protest song he ever wrote.

    • hellomargaux June 17, 2011 at 11:45 am #

      Love your new name! Did he really??? Amazing.

      • Nathaniel Chester June 18, 2011 at 1:46 pm #

        i don’t know about that. its a good quote for a new book on Dylan. trusting what an artist says ABOUT his own work is a slippery slope. especially one looking back through the haze of history.

  2. Dennis A. June 18, 2011 at 7:10 pm #

    I second that emotion.

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