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H2O Man

(73,997 posts)
Wed Dec 24, 2014, 10:39 AM Dec 2014


“Carter repeatedly spits out words like ‘kill’ in conversation. They reflect an easily triggered violence that lies barely restrained beneath his malevolent-looking exterior. In the boxing ring it is a violence that excites fans and is calculated to terrify opponents. ….Carter has not always used his fists in what can only be called his private war against society. Sometimes it has been knives, sometimes guns, sometimes cobblestones. …During last summer’s Harlem riots, for instance, he suggested, in jest, to Elwood Tuck, his closet friend, ‘Let’s get guns and go up there and get us some of those police. I know I can get four or five before they get me. How many can you get?’.”
-- Milton Gross; A Match Made in the Jungle; Saturday Evening Post; October, 1964.

In Norman Jewison’s 1999 movie “The Hurricane,” Rubin Carter makes the unfortunate remark quoted above, during an interview with a reporter. It was actually Carter’s manager/ business advisor, Elwood Tuck, who told the story to Gross. At the time, Carter was preparing to challenge middleweight champion Joey Giardello, in a bout that had previously postponed. Tuck was attempting to boost interest in the bout, by adding to the public image of Rubin as a scary black man.

The worst part, of course, was that Rubin said such a thing. The morning after the magazine hit the stands, Sugar Ray Robinson was on the phone, telling Carter that this could only be taken in a most negative manner by law enforcement across the country. And indeed, it was. I think that it is very difficult for anyone who did not live through that era, to fully appreciate both how tense “race relations” were at the time.

There were riots in Paterson, Elizabeth, and Jersey City, NJ, and Harlem and Rochester, NY, among other places. They had all started over a confrontation between police and an individual male “suspect.” In Paterson, there were broken windows, fires, Molotov cocktails, and random gun fire (no one was killed). And here was someone talking about shooting police.

Police saw a top athlete -- potentially a world champion -- that they believed posed a risk to their safety. Add to that the then-current heavyweight champion, Muhammad Ali, who was a member of the Nation of Islam. Police knew that Carter, like Ali, had an association with Malcolm X, and with Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Yet, unlike the current “controversy” about Rev. Al Sharpton, no one worried that Carter’s words would influence others -- they believed that Carter himself posed the threat.

In my opinion, it was a stupid thing for Rubin to say to Tuck, or anyone else. And it was a really stupid thing for Tuck to feed to the reporter. It wasn’t only law enforcement that found this offensive. Boxing, which was featured weekly on the popular “Friday Night Fights” in living rooms across America, had a number of “character-actors,” and Carter both looked and purposely (for boxing) promoted an image as a vicious felon. Carter’s popularity would plunge after the article was published. And a string of documented incidents -- at times associated with bars late at night -- began taking place. Although they appeared to be harassment, there was a pattern being made.

It was also stupid on Tuck’s part, because he was a bar-owner in Paterson, NJ. It was a decaying industrial city, with tensions between the black, brown, and white communities. A significant part of the tensions included complaints against some members of the police force. More, various studies have documented an unhealthy relationship between police, prosecutors, and politicians from Paterson, and members of organized crime.

By the mid-1960s, non-whites associated with organized crime had risen from the ranks of “enforcers” (something that former heavyweight champion Sonny Liston, also a friend of Rubin’s, was often accused of being), to more mid-level positions. Much of the “vice” in those days -- drugs, gambling, and prostitution -- were run out of bars. There had already been tensions between two mob “families” over control of the Paterson region. And then black men began stepping up their role.

Part of the story that Gross wrote had to do with Giardello’s connections with organized crime. Testimony before the Kefauver Committee indicated that, for example, Frankie Carbo used to own Giardello. By the time of the Carter fight, Giardello fought for Antonio “Tony Bananas” Caponigro. Joey also had a violent felony in his background. The thrust of Gross’s article was that boxing was an ugly, violent sport, controlled by the mafia.

After losing a 15-round decision to Giardello, Rubin would replace Tuck as manager, though the two remained friends. And, in a relatively short time, Carter was convicted of a brutal triple-murder in a Paterson bar. For years, few people who were familiar with the Hurricane’s ring image doubted that he was a mad-dog killer.

Twenty years later, the federal court system would vacate the conviction, which was based upon a “racial revenge theory.” A black bartender had been murdered earlier on the night Carter was accused of murdering a white bartender. Although Carter did not know either victim or gunman in the earlier crime, prosecutors claimed that Carter sought revenge, by killing three complete strangers. In federal court, the NJ prosecutor admitted that there was no evidence that Carter “hated” white people, but that without this “motive,” he could not have gotten the conviction.

I’ve been thinking about that Saturday Evening Post article, since watching the news about the tragic murder of two police officers in NYC, and reading some discussions here on this forum. I have the added burden of insight, having had two relatives shot (one killed) by an off-duty officer less than two months ago. I understand how emotions impact the manner in which we process information about the world around us. I know how and why people who are hurting say some crazy things.

I go back in my mind to the late 1970s: a friend of mine was killed by some railroad workers. For a “prank,” they hung a cable on an old, abandoned railroad bed -- there had been two railroads in the town, and the police chief had recommended my friends ride their motorcycles on the old one -- along a blind curve. The workers, who knew that the cable would injure someone, saw my friend hit it from a distance. They laughed about it in a bar shortly afterwards, not knowing it had decapitated the young man.

Later that night, some of our friends wanted to get “revenge.” I was in the minority, in saying that was not the way. A few hours later, the depot was burned . The area media, of course, paid far more attention to the arson, than to my friend’s death.

The following summer, I led a group of friends in making the area our buddy was killed into a public park. My friend’s parents much preferred that to the arson. A few years later, they donated the money from the railroad to the human service non-profit agency I worked for, to start a program for “at risk” children and youth.

I remember having long discussions with Rubin, who was still incarcerated, about both the park and the program for children and youth. This was at the time when Rube was undergoing the transformation that the movie shows. The park piece was before the Canadians; it was when Rubin was isolating, and only communicating with myself and one other gentleman from Boston.

The other fellow (Thom) had introduced Rubin to Victor Frankl. As a result, Carter began putting away his law books, and concentrating on being released from his cell. For Frankl’s message is simple: we can do the right thing, not because of the horrors that life sometimes lays in our path, but despite them. This is the way to transformation -- both as individuals, and as groups.

We waste time and energy in “arguing” with those who, having been consumed by Fox et al, want to blame people who exercise Amendment 1, for the tragic deaths of those two police officers. And we are at a time when we do not have the luxury of time and energy to squander. More, all of that negative emotion is spiraling, and fanning the flames of hatred and fear, and that can only lead to greater violence.

Times of crises provide opportunities for transformation. And there has never been a time in this nation’s history when true growth has been needed more.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.

H2O Man

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