On April 20th, Rubin “Hurricane” Carter died from cancer at age 76. Carter was the ultimate symbol of racial injustice after spending twenty years on death row a crime he did not commit. Before there were charges against Carter, his popular punching power and fighting style established him as a renowned boxer.
Carter was convicted, by an all white jury, of shooting three people at a tavern in Paterson, New Jersey, in 1966. Carter's botched trial encompassed suppressed evidence, recanted testimony, and prosecutorial racial bias. After two decades on death row, Carter was released in 1985 following further review of the evidence from his case.
“If you’re black you might as well not show up on the street ‘less you wanna draw the heat…Put him in a prison cell but one time he coulda been the champion of the world…couldn’t help but make me feel ashamed to live in a land where justice is a game.” –Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan’s powerful “Hurricane” lyrics stemmed from Carter’s autobiography, The Sixteenth Round, which he published while in prison. His autobiography also became the subject of the 1999 film The Hurricane, which won Denzel Washington an Academy Award for his portrayal of Carter. Carter became a pop culture icon, inspiring other artists like Michael Franti and Spearhead, who wrote the song “Love'll Set Me Free”about his story.
Carter's impact on social justice issues is even more powerful than his influence over pop culture. He devoted his life after prison to issues that mattered to him, like the release of innocent prisoners and the abolition of the death penalty. His legacy prevails as an image of hope in a legal system embedded with flaws.