Sydney, Australia
The Daily Telegraph, Edition 1 - State
SAT 09 SEP 2000, Page 040

SHADOW BOXING

By PETER LALOR

Rubin Hurricane Carter has been the subject of a Bob Dylan song and a movie. His guilt or innocence is still hotly debated, as are a lot of the former boxer's claims about his history. PETER LALOR reports

The small, dapper man smok ing a cigarette on the balcony of a Sydney hotel doesn't look like one of the most feared boxers of his time; doesn't look much like a man twice convicted of triple murder. And, for that matter, he doesn't resemble the cult-hero Bob Dylan described as ``Buddha in a 10-foot (3m) cell''.

Rubin Hurricane Carter came to town this week to hawk a video and join Nelson Mandela on stage in his role as a civil-rights activist. He is short, slim and has considerably more hair on his head than the bald and bulky middle-weight of the 1960s.

If you haven't seen the movie, or heard the song, Carter is the former boxer convicted of a triple bar-room murder in Paterson, New Jersey, in 1967. He became a cause celebre in the early 1970s when Bob Dylan wrote Hurricane and his case was adopted by everybody from Muhammad Ali to Burt Reynolds. Hurricane came to symbolise the injustice white people had wrought upon black Americans and it was easy for everyone to join in -- they just had to hum along with the song.

Carter was freed in 1976, only to be retried and convicted by another jury. Then, in 1985, the boxer was finally released from prison when an appeal led by a group of Canadians and a boy from the Bronx succeeded.

The spotlight was turned back on the boxer when Norman Jewison released a movie, starring Denzel Washington and based on Carter's book, in 1999. The film sparked another controversy as the family of the shooting victims and a number of journalists decried the Hollywood hagiography and maintained that Carter's innocence was a fiction -- as was much of what he claimed about his life.

Carter dismisses the critics as either racist or jealous.

``Taken where that criticism originates from -- all of it from Jersey -- it simply shows how deeply rooted the cancer bud of hate is in New Jersey and it shows the malignancy of that hate,'' he said.

``But, it does not affect me one bit. It affects them. You see, hate, anger, bitterness only consumes the vessels that contain them. It doesn't hurt me. It hurts them.''

Carter maintains that the movie is accurate, despite allegations it cut corners and took great liberties with the truth.

``I tell you something, I wrote the book which created the movie and I wrote the film script from which the movie was filmed [the screen play is credited to Armyan Bernstein Dan Gordon, based on Carter's book The 16th Round]. ``The only thing that one could say was that Hollywood cut some corners in that they didn't show all of the 20 years I spent in prison.''

Without being too pedantic, the movie cuts some very large corners and takes some enormous liberties with the truth. In it Carter is sent to jail as a boy for stabbing a man implied to be a paedophile. In reality, he stabbed somebody in the face with a beer bottle while robbing them.

Only one trial is shown in the film, whereas he was convicted by two juries (the second containing two blacks -- much has been said over the years about Carter being convicted by an all-white jury). There are numerous such incidents, but when has Hollywood ever been capable of portraying the grey areas of life?

Whatever the truth of the movie, Carter is now modelling himself as a civil-rights activist who was involved in the South African struggle -- a claim that did not make it into Jewison's film.

``I made two trips to South Africa in the early 1960s before anybody knew anything about apartheid, or Nelson Mandela or any of that,'' he said this week.

``I went there to fight and my road companion was a young 16-year-old called Steven Biko [the freedom fighter] and that's when I learned about Nelson Mandela.

``While I was in South Africa, Nelson was going on trial at the time and the stance that he took was the inspiration that gave me the ability to stand up for what was right. I said that if he can stand up for what he knows to be the truth then so can I.

``So, therefore, I refused to obey the prison rules, I refused to wear the stripes of a guilty man. I refused to work their jobs and I would have refused to breathe their air if I could have done so and allowed my innocence to remain alive. I saw no reason in the world to become a good prisoner if I hadn't been a bad citizen.

``Steven took me to some outlawed ANC meetings while I was there and I listened to the history of that country and I saw with my own eyes how people were being brutalised and how the people had nothing but stones and sticks to fight machine guns. So I went back and I brought guns into South Africa.

``I didn't know what I was doing, but I think that was my first realisation of being politicised.''

Carter says that meeting Mandela and being in Sydney is the completion of an historical loop.

``It seems to be coming full circle. In 1956 I qualified for the Olympics but I was mustering out of the military and they wanted me to re-enlist for another two years in order to represent them. But I thought better and I didn't go, but here I am again.

``So it has come full circle and here I am with Nelson Mandela.'' According to the prosecutor's records, Carter was separated from the military for ``unfitness'' after four court martials -- for apparently trivial offences -- during his 21-month career. It was apparently cut short by the army itself.

``I was born 64 years ago in a segregated United States where black people were not even recognised as human beings. That's hatred and it created a hatred within us of ourselves and that is eating us up and killing us even today.

``In the same way, how do you think the Aboriginals feel about the Australians doing what they are doing to them? That's hate that hate produces and if you guys don't straighten this shit out, this place is going up in flames.''

Carter's critics are zealous in their resolve. One of them, former journalist and Miami-based court consultant Cal Deal, maintains a comprehensive Website (www.graphicwitness.com) which counters most of the boxer's assertions of innocence and is quick to jump on any public utterances by the man.

``I really believe that the guy is a killer,'' Deal said this week. ``He goes around creating stories to inflate his own importance and everyone lets him get away with it.

``Nobody gets to hear the other side of the story and the other side of the story was enough to convince two juries.''

Deal and his associates dismiss Carter's claims about Biko and drug running, as well as the 1956 Olympics.

``I think the man is incapable of telling the truth, but the problem is too many people want to believe his story because it's a good story. I get a lot of angry e-mails,'' Deal said.