On June 17th, 1966, two armed men would walk into the Lafayette Grill in Paterson, New Jersey and open fire, killing three and severely injuring another. This is the crime that both middleweight contender, Rubin “Hurricane” Carter and John Artis were accused of and eventually, convicted of. I first became aware of this case in 1999 when a movie entitled: “The Hurricane” was released. Anytime that there is a boxing movie produced, I will be the first in line to see it and this situation was no different. I had mixed emotions after I watched the film. First, Denzel Washington, as always did a great job, and it was an uplifting story of triumph over racism and depression, but I didn’t think that I was getting all of the facts. In fact, the movie seemed to use excessive racism to get the point across that Rubin Carter was the victim of a conspiracy and was, in fact, innocent.
I purchased James S. Hirsch’s book: Hurricane: The Miraculous Journey of Rubin Carter and it was truly a great read and answered many of the questions that I had at the time. It backed up much of what the movie presented and had many facts that I was unaware of. I was now satisfied that Carter was innocent and that there was racism involved. After all, we are discussing a time when racism was rampant and the playing field was not even for minorities. In 1955, just eleven years prior to the Lafayette Grill shootings, a fourteen-year old, African American, Emmett Till is kidnapped and tortured to death for whistling at a white woman by two white men. If you have never seen a picture of Till after the fact, I recommend that you don’t. It was one of the most disturbing things that I have ever seen. In the end, the two men that did it and would later sell their stories to the press on how they carried out the murder, were found innocent, despite the mountain of evidence against them.
The same year that Rubin Carter was arrested, James Meredith started a solitary march against racism from Memphis to Jackson. A sniper made certain that he would not make it to the finish line. Stokely Carmichael, who coined the phrase: “Black Power,” would finish the march in his memory, along with Martin Luther King, and Floyd McKissick. The militant group: “The Black Panthers” were founded in 1966 by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale out of necessity, as they confronted the negative treatment by white America. This was a very racist time and a time of transition and people don’t like change, which is why Martin Luther King was murdered along with Malcolm X. If murder is not out of the question, then certainly framing a man that is popular and outspoken for a crime he didn’t commit is plausible. Rubin Carter claimed racism and it made sense when you look at the times, but not all agreed.
Cal Deal was there on the front line of the civil rights movement and has covered the case against Carter and saw the story differently than most. I stumbled across his website and I was seriously intrigued. It was put together very well and presented evidence that I personally, have never seen up to that point. Cal Deal was eager to get his side across and granted an interview to RSR, where he explains the other side of the Hurricane.
GM: You have created and maintained a website concerning Rubin “Hurricane” Carter. Why did you make this website and what is or was your relationship to the Hurricane?
Well, the website was to counter the Hollywood version of his story which is not true. I first met Carter in 1975 and I went down to interview him and photograph him for our newspaper. Now I was mostly a photographer, but I also participated in the interview and before I went down, I didn’t know anything about the case. I didn’t cover it. I didn’t know the people involved. I didn’t follow it when it was in the news. So I read up the clip files and what was going on with the case and everything was very positive to Carter. It seemed like he was innocent and I went down to the prison with that in my head, but before we went down, I asked our managing editor. I said: “Can we offer to give him a lie detector test and will the paper pay for it?” And he said: “Yes.”
So, we went down there and started the interview and Carter was very outgoing and friendly…very persuasive to people that didn’t really know the facts of the case. We then offered to give him the lie detector test and he refused. We said that if you’re innocent and you’ve got such a good case, then why not? This whole thing as a PR campaign to win over the public and this would be a great thing to pass a lie detector test. It will be magnificent PR and it will be very interesting. So, he refused and when we drove back to the paper, we talked about that and were very disturbed by that fact. It just didn’t seem right that a person that is innocent would refuse such an offer. That’s when I started looking into the case on my own and started developing a four part series that we ran and then I began learning the facts and after not too long, I began to believe that he was guilty, and I haven’t changed my opinion since.
When you don’t know the facts of the case, and you don’t understand how all the pieces fit together, and you listen to his arguments that the cops did this and the cops did that and you don’t have it in the proper perspective, then his arguments can be persuasive, but when you know the facts and you know what really happened that night, the case just falls apart…that’s why he was convicted twice by the juries. So, years later, when the movie was coming out and it was based on his story and he was participating in it, I knew what it was going to be. That is when I began building the website.
GM: Did you see the movie when it initially was released?
I was sitting next to Pat Valentine who was the key witness against him and Jim Wallace, who was the first police officer to arrive at the murder scene. He was just up the street. He was there in his civilian clothes, and we watched the movie together and it was a bunch of garbage. Through this website, I’ve tried to let people know that the movie is false and that the Carter story is false and that there is good reason why he was convicted of murder. My website has gotten quite a reaction around the world.
GM: What sorts of reactions are you getting?
Well, a lot of people are very appreciative for opening their eyes and other people call me a racist and they don’t even know me and it’s ridiculous that they pull that crap. People that don’t want to know the facts just react. So get quite a few emails of people that just call me a racist bastard and a low life son of a bitch and ask me how I could do this to this good man, and that just irritates me more than anything. I have a response that I send back to all of them that basically says that before you go and call somebody something like that, know what the hell you are talking about and then I direct them to places on my website. It’s just a cheap way to discredit me and Carter, himself, used it when I went to interview him for WABC TV in New York. When he realized just who I was and I told the T.V. reporter that if he knows that I’m coming, he will never sit down for the interview. So they kept it secret and when he came into the room, he recognized me but couldn’t recall from exactly where. That’s when the T.V. reporter introduced him and right away he goes after me, using the race card and he was going to walk out on the interview, but the T.V. reporter convinced him to stay and he did. I even caught him lying in the interview, using his own book as proof. The race issue keeps popping up, but it has nothing to do with what I’m doing. He happens to be black…so what?
GM: Have you read James S. Hirsch’s book on the Hurricane?
I haven’t read it cover to cover, but I’ve thumbed through it.
GM: He states in his book that the lone survivor of the bar shootings, Williams Marin described the shooters as about the same height. Now John Artis is around four inches taller than Rubin Carter. What do you make of Marin’s account of that night and his description of the shooters?
There are a couple things to keep in mind when assessing that. First, Marin didn’t want to get involved in this thing. He did not want to be an important witness. He basically was sort of vague with his testimony if I recall, and he was afraid. He had to live in an area and he wasn’t a very bright man…a simple man, and he didn’t want to be the focal point of that case. One of the stories that surprised me more than any was the day that I was with the owner of the Lafayette Grill and some of the family members of the victims and we were just talking about the case. The bar owner said that Willie told him that Carter and Artis did it and he wouldn’t testify to it or say it in public, but he told him that it was Carter and Artis. Right away, I was like what a great story this is, but being a responsible journalist, I didn’t just go with it. I probably could have gotten away with it, but I didn’t do it. I called Willie Marin’s brother about seven one night and identified myself as a reporter and asked him about that and he said: “Yeah, he told me too.” He never talked to the bar owner or had any contact with him. He talks to me years after the fact. His brother’s been dead for years and he confirmed what the owner said.
So, then before I went with the story, I tracked down somebody else that lived in the neighborhood and who knew Marin and he confirmed it. So, three people that knew Marin and he confided in all of them that it was Carter and Artis. We ran that at the top of the page in about 1975. Now, the thing about the height: I have a number of pictures of Carter and Artis and in some pictures he looks a lot taller and in others, he looks about the same size. It just depends on your perspective. You have to remember Hazel Tanis that was the woman that was shot and she said something similar, but she was on the floor in the corner and she was looking up at them…so how could she judge height? Marin got a quick look at them and he really didn’t have a lot of time to gage height. That really doesn’t bother me…those little discrepancies, but people will fixate on them as proof, but it’s not really proof. The car is far more an issue than the height.
GM: The night of the shootings, Pat Valentine witnessed the getaway car from her window located above the bar. There has been some confusion as to the certainty of Valentine’s statement and the possibility of mistaken identity. What can you tell us about Valentine’s vantage point, and her description of the car?
No, no, no. There was no mistaken identity…you’re referring to the car?
GM: Yes, I know that the movie made a big deal out of it, and I wanted to get your take on that situation.
Pat does not know cars. That night, she realized that something was wrong. She saw those two men run from the side of the building. She heard some noise…she heard a woman screaming. She knew something was wrong and she’s looking right down at this car from her bay window and the car is double-parked. She is only thirty feet away from it. So, she’s staring at it and she’s thinking that she has to remember what this car looks like. There were a number of things about that car. It was shiny like a new car. It has black occupants and for a new car, it would be unusual for that time. It had out of states plates either Pennsylvania or New York, which is unusual. It had those butterfly taillights, which were also unusual, and she just stared at it and remembered all of these things. About a half an hour later, the cops brought Carter and Artis back to the bar and were interviewing Pat in her apartment, I think, and when they brought her down to look at the car. Once she saw it, she became hysterical. She recognized it immediately. She was afraid and she ran around to the front of the bar to get away from it. She was that certain that that was the car.
Al Bello, the other eyewitness that got a good look at the car. At the scene, within an hour of the murders said: “that was the car.” He never, for all the things that Bello did and didn’t do in the subsequent years, he never changed that story. You go to my website and there is the actual police report from that morning that says that both witnesses said that that is the getaway car. The fact that later on at a hearing…ten or so years later, she mixes up the Dodge Monaco and the Polara because they are very similar and she just didn’t remember what the model name was. She just remembered what she saw and just that confusion with the model name that they seized on and the movie makes a big deal out of it to make it seem like she saw a Monaco and Carter drove a Polara. That’s a bunch of crap…it’s a smokescreen.
On my website there are some graphics at the top of the page and you can see the taillights of the Monaco and the tail lights of the Polara and they are so different, especially when you look at them in color. You can see that somebody looking at those two sets of taillights isn’t going to mix them up. That’s why the cops took her to the back of the car and showed her the taillights and that’s when she ran, and to this day she is sure. She doesn’t have any second thoughts or doubts. She knows what she saw. That’s just one of those things that they seize on if you take it out of perspective and say that at a hearing she thought it was a Monaco, but she doesn’t know it from a Polara, or from a Volkswagen and she heard the Monaco being brought up at the hearing and she was just confused…she didn’t know. She did identify that specific car.
RSR Readers: Stay tuned for Part 2 of: Guilty: The Other Side of the Hurricane. RSR Sits Down with Herald News Reporter, Cal Deal to Discuss Rubin Carter, where we will discuss the supposedly racist Detective Desimone, and the revenge motive that may have been the reason why this crime occurred.