BENTON HARBOR, Mich. -- A figure such as Rubin “Hurricane” Carter seemed like a natural to bring calm to a city in turmoil.
He's a former boxing star who rose from poverty only to be convicted of murder in 1967. A federal court later ruled that the conviction was racially motivated. Mr. Carter was freed in 1985.
Mr. Carter seemed perfect to speak to the despair and hopelessness of Benton Harbor residents -- feelings that many believe led to two nights of violence after the death of motorcyclist Terrance Devon Shurn early Monday.
Mr. Carter's appearance in Benton Harbor yesterday was purely coincidental, but he wanted to lend a hand regardless.
Mr. Carter, who was portrayed by actor Denzel Washington in the movie The Hurricane, said he understands all too well what happens to African-Americans living in communities of poverty and hopelessness.
“Unfortunately, this reminds me of what was going on 37 years ago when I was convicted for a crime that I didn't commit,” Mr. Carter told The Blade during an interview yesterday. “This is what happens when you allow the affluent to live on one side of the river [in St. Joseph] and leave the other side in poverty.”
Mr. Carter said he felt the Benton Harbor citizens need to be heard, or the violence will continue.
He questioned the need for extra police called in by Benton Harbor police and the Berrien County Sheriff's Department to stop rioters.
“That wasn't peace and calm [Wednesday night]; that was an occupation,” Mr. Carter said. “Peace and calm comes when you have people feeling comfortable with where they live and what is happening to them. I don't think that will happen for a while.”
Mr. Carter was in town for another judicial cause, the case of Maurice Carter.
Maurice Carter, who is not related to Rubin Carter, was convicted of the 1973 shooting of an off-duty police officer in downtown Benton Harbor.
Supporters of Maurice Carter say he was arrested on the word of a convicted drug dealer trying to get a lighter sentence and that no physical evidence linked Maurice Carter to the crime.
Witnesses at the scene could not identify Maurice Carter as the gunman, his supporters say.
Rubin Carter spoke to the Berrien County commissioners yesterday morning and held a news conference at noon in St. Joseph to bring attention to the case on behalf of his Toronto nonprofit organization, The Association in Defense of the Wrongly Convicted.
Rubin Carter later attended a closed-door meeting of Benton Harbor community leaders with Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm at a neighborhood church.
After the meeting, Mr. Carter said he talked with Ms. Granholm about Maurice Carter but felt a kinship with the Benton Harbon citizens.
“They spoke about a lot of issues and all of them are real,” Mr. Carter said.
“We talked about many of the same issues, the injustices that continue to be suffered by the poor in this community,” he said. “We hope my issue and their issues can be addressed soon.”