"The Hurricane" is a horrible falsification of history
Note: The writer is the son of the late Passaic County, N.J., Chief of Detectives Vincent J. DeSimone, the man portrayed in the movie "The Hurricane" as "Lt. Vincent Della Pesca," an obsessed racist out to get Rubin Carter.
By JAMES DeSIMONE
I tried to ignore the movie "Hurricane" and its attendant publicity until I could see it for myself, which I did in late December at a preview.
My father was the ultimate honest cop who, after being shot in the face while serving in World War II, came back to Paterson, N.J., decided to become a Paterson "street cop," and proved to be a loving, decent man who lived by the "Good Book," and wanted nothing but good things for all those around him.
My four siblings and myself were raised in a middle-class family in Passaic County, N.J., on the basis of honesty and integrity, of believing that "only do unto others as you would want them to do unto you." My father, because of his war-scarred face, was known on the beat as "Scarface," and I guess he was embarrassed about his appearance, not for himself, but for his family, for whom he would do anything. To his family and neighbors, however, he was a beautiful man.
He lived for his family and those around him, always trying to make the community, his world, a better place. As his only son, when I was a teen-ager he would drill into my head the knowledge that, as the one who would carry on the family name, I had to do everything I could to protect it, cherish and honor it.
Now comes the movie.
I've been talking to people close to the story of Hurricane Carter, trying to understand how the movie's plot could carry the disclaimer:
"While this picture is based upon a true story, some characters have been composites or invented, and a number of incidents fictionalized."
People who know nothing about the case, of course, will not be able to separate fact from the movie's fiction. Which ones among the movie's law enforcement officers, judges, lawyers, jurors, and family members were real? And what about the real victims, the three people killed and the person who was blinded in the Lafayette Bar & Grill on that horrible night, and their families?
The film has moved me to answer for my late father, who can no longer speak for himself. I see the movie as another example of a shameful Hollywood habit. Too many of its movie-makers are so eager to do whatever they think will "sell," that they trample upon the truth, and any concern for the human costs involved, in their callous efforts to market a motion picture.
Of the many articles about "Hurricane" that I have read, the only one that I felt carried some vindication for the families involved was the Dec. 19, 1999 column by Jack Newfield in The New York Post.
He wrote, "There's no better way to tell a story -- and forcefully shape public opinion -- than a well-crafted movie.
"'The Hurricane," which opened Dec. 29, is fabulously effective filmmaking -- and a horrible falsification of history.
"I knew Rubin Carter, attended his fights, covered his retrial, and I didn't see much reality on the screen."
Mr. Newfield goes on to say that the film's creators wanted to use history without knowing it.
He mentions several individuals who, he feels, deserve credit for getting Carter and his friend, Artis, out of prison. He also mentions those characters in the movie who are credited with their release and then goes on to note that those now seeking to correct the record are doing so because of the way the movie distorted the facts.
Mr. Newfield concludes, "If Carter and Artis were innocent, then they were railroaded by the entire Paterson, N.J. criminal justice system, not just one cop with a vendetta."
Neither my father nor the DeSimone family convicted Mr. Carter. Nor did the other police officers and investigators. Nor did the judges, and the many lawyers involved. Two juries, in two separate instances, convicted Mr. Carter, in accordance with the workings of our judicial system. Juries decide guilt or innocence after hearing evidence, facts, from all sides involved in the case.
Our judicial system doesn't require us to wait, say 25 years for a movie to appear, employ the words "true story," toss in a quick, non-specific disclaimer, and have it stand as the final, conclusive verdict on a real-life crime.
It seems only fair that the movie-going public, present and future, understand how "Hurricane" runs roughshod over many good people who no longer can defend themselves, can no longer speak their piece, preserve their honor, save their good names. And let's not forget those who never got this second chance to defend themselves -- the victims of the murders that took place in the Lafayette Bar & Grill.
And let's not forget the life and the service rendered by that "one cop with a vendetta," Chief Detective Vincent J. Desimone Jr., my day and my hero.
In have a plaque in my office, a gift from him, that reads: