Herald Sun, Edition 1 - FIRST
MON 18 SEP 2000, Page 020

"This is the man who stood next to Nelson Mandela and gave us a morality lesson. What an insult to Mandela."

Hurricane Carter a victim of racism? There's another side to the story


GOOD on the boys of Trinity Grammar for bringing Nelson Mandela here to
teach us about reconciliation.

But it's the other celebrity invited to their World Reconciliation Day event
at Colonial Stadium a week ago who, sadly, taught us all another important

Rubin ``Hurricane'' Carter was flown in by the event's promoter, former bank
robber Graeme Alford, to join Mandela in lecturing us on kindness.
Carter seemed right for the job. After all, he is the black American
ex-boxer who was jailed for murdering three strangers in a bar, only to find
himself famous when Bob Dylan began to sing of him as:

The man that authorities came to blame, For somethin' that he never done.

That was in 1975. With the help of Dylan, Muhammad Ali and a posse of
Hollywood celebrities, Carter fought for his freedom. And in 1985, a judge
at last let him go, accusing prosecutors of using ``racism rather than

Since then, Carter has been hailed as a noble victim of American racism, and
has addressed the United Nations. Hollywood last year even made a hero of
him in The Hurricane, a film of his life.

Newspapers here hailed him a ``civil rights champion'' and ``victim of a
crude injustice''.

Anyway, that's the Carter legend. That's the story most of us want to

And here's where our real lesson starts -- a lesson in how victimhood can
make heroes of villains. In how truth is so easily killed for a cause.
Rubin Carter was a child of a decent family, but was a bully in school and
was often arrested for thieving.

A T 14 he was sent to reform school for splitting a man's head with a bottle
and robbing him. (The film pretends he was protecting a friend from a

He was later booted out of the army after four courts-martial and was soon
back in jail. He wrote that when he was finally let out in 1957, ``they had
just unleashed a walking, ticking, short-fused time bomb set to explode''.
And, yes, a month later he bashed two men and was sent back to jail, where
he beat up a badly handicapped prisoner.

Psychologists warned he suffered ``grandiose paranoid delusions'' and was a
``sociopath'' who was ``extremely dangerous''.

As Carter himself wrote: ``I wanted to be the Administrator of Justice, the
Revealer of Truth, the Inflicter of All Retribution.'' Indeed, at the height
of his boxing fame, he boasted to the Saturday Evening Post that he and a
friend ``used to shoot at folks'', and warned: ``If you mess with me I'm
going to try to kill you.''

FREE again, Carter concentrated on his boxing and fought for a world title
in 1964. The Hurricane typically claims racist boxing judges robbed him, but
every sportswriter who covered the fight agreed he was beaten by a better

The law judge who eventually freed Carter was to claim that by 1966 the
boxer was still ``a contender for the middleweight crown'', but he must have
been conned by Dylan wailing how He coulda been the champion of the

In fact, Carter was on the slide, having won just seven of his last 15

Then on June 16 that year, a white man walked into Carter's favorite bar in
New Jersey and blasted the black barman with a shotgun.

Carter was a friend of the victim's stepson and quickly heard of the murder.
He later admitted angry blacks at the bar had talked of revenge. Witnesses
said Carter sped off searching for his guns.

Just hours later, at 2.30 am, two black men walked into a white bar down the
road and blasted the white barman -- a known racist -- with a shotgun. They
also shot the three drinkers, one a grandmother.

A THIEF called Alfred Bello saw the killers, one of whom he only later
identified as Carter, leave the bar and hop into a new, white car.
Within 10 minutes, police pulled over a new, white car. But when they
recognised the famous boxer, who was lying on the back seat, they let it go.
It was only when Bello told them minutes later that the killers' car also
had distinctive butterfly tail lights and blue and yellow interstate plates,
that the police realised Carter's was the one they were searching for, after

They soon found it again and brought it to the scene. A woman who had seen
the killers drive off identified it.

That morning -- with a reporter watching and before ballistics tests had
identified the murder weapons -- a detective also found a shotgun shell and
bullet in Carter's car. They matched those used by the killers, and Carter
was convicted of murder.

BUT then Hollywood got interested, and Bello swore he hadn't seen Carter at
the crime scene after all.

So Carter got a retrial, but the jury soon heard why Bello had changed his
mind -- he'd been offered cash by Carter supporters. Then four of Carter's
alibi witnesses from the first trial admitted they had been told to lie. The
second jury promptly convicted him again.

But in 1985 the very liberal Judge Lee ``Let `Em Go'' Sarokin set aside the
convictions in a controversial ruling in which he mis-stated crucial

His main point was that the prosecutor (who was in fact a civil rights
lawyer) had been racist in suggesting the murders were a payback for the
killing of the black barman. He said this could have inflamed the second
jury, without explaining how -- given that it comprised whites and blacks.
But his decision made the judge look so good that he asked if he could play
himself in The Hurricane.

Of course, it's quite possible Carter is innocent. But is he still the right
man to preach to us about reconciliation?

While on bail for his second trial, he beat Carolyn Kelley, the (black) head
of his Carter Defence Fund, so badly that she took a month to recover.
``He's Satan, and Satan can fool a lot of people,'' she says.

HIS private life remains stormy, and he recently married for the third
time. His son this year claimed Carter refused to help him when he was
jailed for bashing his girlfriend, and that they hadn't spoken in five

And this is the man who stood next to Nelson Mandela and gave us a morality

What an insult to Mandela, and to us. But what an unexpectedly useful lesson
-- if a sobering one -- for the fine, generous and trusting boys of Trinity