The Hurricane Meets Mumia
April 9, 2000
Rubin Hurricane Carter was a top middleweight boxer when he was framed by the police in 1996 for a triple murder in Paterson, New Jersey. Carter and John Artis were convicted for a crime they did not commit. Carter spent the next 19 years of his life in prison, until his conviction was overturned by a federal court. His struggle for justice is depicted in the current film Hurricane starring Denzel Washington, who was nominated for an Academy Award for his gripping portrayal.
On March 25, Rubin Carter went back behind bars--to visit Mumia Abu-Jamal at the "super max" SCI Greene prison in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania. Carter has been speaking out in support of Mumia. In February, he made a taped message saying, "Hello! This is Rubin Hurricane Carter calling on you to come out to the Emergency National Conference to Save Mumia Abu-Jamal. We MUST save him. Please come out!"
The following are excerpts from Rubin Hurricane Carter's talk at the forum.
I was at the peak of my career, a professional prize fighter.... And the next thing I knew I was fighting for my very life, on trial in criminal court.
I was accused of murdering three complete strangers in a New Jersey bar. The state sought the death penalty. The odds of my being alive today were not exactly in my favor.
There were three murder victims. All of them were white. The jury was all white. The police, the judge, the state witnesses and the prosecutors were all white. I at that time was Black. (laughter)
Even though I did not remotely fit the description of the assailants...even though the two surviving victims did not and could not identify me and even said it was not me, even though I had a number of credible alibi witnesses placing me elsewhere at the time of the crime, even though I passed the lie detector test showing that I had no involvement, and even though I testified voluntarily in front of two separate grand juries and was exonerated--I was still convicted.
But luckily, if you can call the hell of a triple life sentence luck...I escaped execution. It was the quality of my legal representation that made the critical difference, that allowed me to remain alive, that allowed my innocence to remain alive. And we won it! Here I am! We won it--just as we're going to do for Mumia Abu-Jamal!
When I walked into that cell this morning and saw this big, young, handsome, strapping person named Mumia Abu-Jamal--eyes radiant, skin effervescent--here was an innocent man. And I'm looking at this big brother, and this big brother's looking at me, and the first thing he says, "You don't look like Denzel Washington!"....
I am the Executive Director of AIDWIC, the International Association in Defense of the Wrongly Convicted, based in Canada, Great Britain and the United States. I am also on the board of directors of the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta, Georgia.
And we deal with death penalty cases of wrongful conviction throughout the south every single day.... This country, which considers itself the leader of the free world, is the only western industrialized nation who insists upon maintaining the anachronism of the death penalty.
And we're not even ashamed of this rampant racism in its selective application.
Hell, we even kill children and admit them to be counted as adults. Do you remember Ricky Richter? Ricky Richter was from Arkansas. And President Clinton, doing his first run at the presidency, came off the campaign trail and went down to Arkansas and signed the death warrant of this mentally retarded man, and by that fact was able to gain the presidency.
And we've got somebody else running in his footsteps. We've got that governor George Death Bush, Jr. down there in Texas. This person has been in office for five and a half years and already he has executed more than 122 people. This man is crazy. And his brother is trying to catch up with him, too. Just as [Pennsylvania] Governor Tom Ridge is trying to stay up with them. It's not hard to be outraged when you realize that in no other country would this topic even be necessary. This specialty of law doesn't exist elsewhere. It's not hard to be outraged when you hear that lawyers in Louisiana and Mississippi representing indigent defendants in capital cases receive the ridiculous sum of $1,000--and that's the maximum no matter how intensive the investigation, the preparation, or the trial. And in Georgia the fee is even less. It's not hard to be outraged...
When we see people like Mumia Abu-Jamal, when we see people like Rolando Cruz in Illinois, when we see people like Geronimo Pratt, when we see people like Leonard Peltier, when you see people in Canada, for example, like Donald Marshall, David Milgaard, Deepo Moore and Thomas Southalaw, Christopher Bates--and the list goes on and on and on--it's not hard to be outraged. It's not hard.
You see, there's a rush to death in our society, a chilling climate of anti-crime hysteria and fear.... Fear and prejudice inflames passion but clouds judgment. When you fear someone anything is possible. You can then justify anything psychologically and legally--from slavery to segregation, to anti-Semitism, to the McCarthy witch hunts. You can justify the erosion of constitutional protections and justify the wholesale application of the death penalty against minorities, the poor, the disadvantaged and the disenfranchised.
Blinded by a fear of crime we focus only on the symptoms and completely ignore the cause--the poverty, the unnecessary poverty, the unnecessary illiteracy, the unnecessary unemployment, the unnecessary drugs and the unnecessary racism. And instead of extending opportunities to people, we punish them and marginalize them further...You see, there are many people who find themselves standing on the wrong side of the law today not because they went astray, but because the law, having been placed in the wrong hands, strayed from the right path. That's what we've got going on.
In existing criminology there are indeed criminal concepts or criminal persons or a criminal profession, a criminal society and even a criminal tribe. But there is no concept of a criminal state or a criminal government or criminal legislation. And therefore the biggest crimes of all actually escape being called crimes. But it is absolutely criminal for anyone born and raised in this country to be illiterate. It is absolutely criminal for anyone in the country to be homeless. It is criminal for anyone in this country to be narcotized into passivity. It is criminal that there are more young Black men incarcerated in this country's prisons than there are in the universities. It is criminal that people in this country are made to live in abject poverty while living in the wealthiest country in the world...
This gathering here today--and for however long it takes us to free Mumia, because he will be free--is absolutely vital and necessary. I really can't stand here and tell you how much it means, when you are wrongly imprisoned or sitting on death row, to know that there are people out here like you attending events like this, that there are people out here like you who really do care about justice. That gives us hope, because hope is always more valuable than common sense. And in a place as hopeless, desperate and dangerous as is the nature of a prison, there is nothing more precious than hope...
Every wrongful conviction has the same flavor, is made up of the same ingredients and has the same stink to it. And all of 'em stink...
In my case, for example, I had two petty criminals, themselves suspects in the crime, who claimed--with the help of a $10,000 reward and promises of leniency for crimes that they committed that night that would have ended them in prison for 90 years--they saw me at the scene. The prosecutor knew that it's a lie. Just as with this Cynthia White thing in Mumia Abu-Jamal's case. They knew the woman was lying. And yet they hid that and allowed the jury not to hear exculpatory evidence about Mumia Abu-Jamal.
We've got to get Mumia Abu-Jamal out of jail. He doesn't belong there. And he is a beautiful brother! He is a beautiful brother, oh, yeah.
Madam Justice Susan MacLean
OTTAWA MEN'S CENTRE
CANADIAN JUDGES DIRECTORY
ONTARIO SUPERIOR ONTARIO PROV. ONTARIO COURT OF APPEAL
OTTAWA MEN'S CENTRE