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The story of Hurricane, the innocent boxing champion

I've never written a political song before. Songs can't change the world, I've stopped thinking about it now. So writes Bob Dylan in the first (and only) volume of his autobiography published in 2004. But you know that the boy likes to joke and provoke (he's been doing it for more than fifty years). Because at least one political song, in the most authentic sense of the word, Dylan wrote it.

It's called Hurricane, it was recorded on October 24, 1975 and it's the first track of the album Desire (released on January 5, 1976). Eight minutes and thirty-three seconds in which the future Nobel Prize winner tells the story of "Hurricane, the man the investigators blamed of something he never did put in a prison cell, he who could become the world champion, starting as if it were the beginning of a film script: Night, bar room, gunshots".


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Will not be over until they rehabilitate his name and give him back the years he lost.

Who is Rubin Carter alias Hurricane?

Hurricane is the boxer Rubin Carter who, at the time of the song's release, had been in prison for eight years, sentenced to life imprisonment for a triple murder on June 17, 1966. At about 2:30 in the morning, two men enter the Lafayette Bar and Grill in Paterson, New Jersey, and open fire, killing two men and seriously injuring a woman who dies about a month later. A fourth person survives the attack, but loses sight of one eye.
Thanks to a person who recognises his car, Carter is stopped by the police along with another man, John Artis, and, although not recognised by other witnesses to the shooting, they were nailed down by the testimony of a well-known criminal, Alfred Bello, who roamed around the Lafayette to commit a crime that same night and had seen the whole thing. The two are sentenced to life imprisonment in a trial that takes place a few months later. At the time of his conviction, Rubin Carter was thirty years old. He was born in 1937 and, after a turbulent adolescence like those of many African-Americans of his time, passed between reformatory, army and state prison (four years for aggression and robbery), he discovers boxing, and then began his professional boxing career in 1961.
Thanks to his aggressive style and the power of his fists, he immediately captured the attention of the public, soon becoming a darling and winning the nickname of Hurricane. This was until he challenged the reigning middleweight champion, Joey Giardello, in a match of 15 rounds which was valid for the title on December 14, 1964. In that same year Carter took radical positions during the violent racial unrest that broke out in July in the Harlem ghetto after a policeman had killed a fifteen-year-old black boy. An attitude for which he is carefully controlled by Paterson's police and which, perhaps, affects the verdict of guilty issued by an all-white jury that in fact interrupts a career that boasts, until then, 27 wins, 12 defeats and a draw in 40 matches, with 8 knockouts and 11 technical knockouts.

Il carcere e l'autobiografia

In prison the former boxer writes an autobiography that was published in 1974, in which, among other things, argues his innocence for the murders of 1966. The book is successful and many of its readers begin to ask for grace or at least a new trial.

Among these is Bob Dylan who, after reading the book during a trip to France, meets the former boxer in prison and, increasingly convinced of his innocence, decides to commit himself to the cause in every way possible.

He then wrote Hurricane and began a campaign to reopen the process, culminating in concerts at Madison Square Garden in New York on December 8, 1975 (a real Hurricane Night, organised in conjunction with the release of the song as a single) and at the Astrodome in Houston on January 20, 1976, where he performed the song live for the last time.
The trial is finally reopened, but the outcome does not change: in less than nine hours a jury, this time including two African-Americans, recognises Carter as still guilty of the murders, sentencing him again to life imprisonment.
The story seems to be over, and in the worst possible way. Dylan and his record company also receive a complaint of defamation, fortunately without consequences. Meanwhile, Carter's group of lawyers decided to appeal to the Federal Court and were successful: in 1985, Judge Haddon Lee Sarokin acknowledged that Carter did not get a fair trial, stating that the charge was "based on racial grounds". On February 26, 1988, the man who could become the world champion was finally released from prison.

From that moment until his death on April 20, 2014 at the age of 76 in Toronto, where he had emigrated, he was responsible for the rights of prisoners, holding the position of executive director of the Association for the defence of those sentenced by mistake, for which he received several honorary degrees in Law (for example from the University of New York), finally managing to see his story at the centre of a film starring Denzel Washington in the role of the protagonist and entitled Hurricane - The Cry of Innocence (1999). A story that, as Dylan sang, will not be over until they rehabilitate his name and give him back the years he lost.

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