From the Archives: ATTICA! ATTICA! (1991)


By William M. Kunstier

September thirteenth marked the twentieth anniversary of the retaking of D-Yard on the Attica State Correctional Facility—a maximum-security penitentiary in upstate New York—by the authorities. The navy assault on the yard by a military of state troopers, correction officers and sheriff’s deputies resulted within the deaths of 33 inmates and 10 hostages, in addition to extreme accidents to scores of different prisoners. Many died from lack of blood or lack of sufficient medical consideration due to the state’s failure to offer sufficient physicians, nurses and plasma for the anticipated variety of casualties. Following the assault, inmates have been pressured to run a gauntlet of baton-wielding officers or have been in any other case brutalized.

Some 17 years in the past, a loyal band of attorneys who had been concerned within the authorized proceedings that adopted the retaking of the ability, filed a category motion swimsuit on behalf of the affected inmates in federal courtroom in Buffalo, NY. The swimsuit sought damages for each the brutality practiced towards their purchasers and the dearth of planning for sufficient medical and personnel assets. The unique defendants included the property of Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, Correction Commissioner Russell Oswald, Warden Vincent Mancusi and his chief deputy. Though the Rockefeller attorneys succeeded in acquiring an order of dismissal for the property, the swimsuit towards the opposite defendants has simply been sustained by a federal appellate courtroom, which additionally directed {that a} immediate trial happen.

In an effort to put together for this trial—which, it’s estimated, might take so long as six or seven months—an Attica Justice Committee has been shaped. Amongst its hundred or so members are Susan Sarandon, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Spike Lee, Father Daniel Berrigan, Ramsey Clark, Bishop Paul Moore and painters Leon Golub and Nancy Spero. The committee’s objective is to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the rebellion and to assist the Attica plaintiffs and their households in the course of the Buffalo trial. The trial’s funds is being estimated at $100,000, out of which the bills of transporting many witnesses to Buffalo might be met. These embrace Dr. Michael Baden, the previous New York Metropolis health worker; New York Instances columnist Tom Wicker; and Malcom Bell, who, as an assistant New York state lawyer common, uncovered the unfair prosecution of the Attica inmates in his e-book, Turkey Shoot, which led Governor Hugh Carey to order the dismissal of all the fees towards them.

As one of many observers requested by the inmates, I, together with the opposite members of our small group, spent the 4 days previous to the September 13 invasion trying to influence Gov. Rockefeller to not retake D-Yard by pressure till all efforts to impact a peaceable decision had been explored. Tragically, we have been unsuccessful. On the morning of the thirteenth, a Monday, I stood on the entrance to the jail watching officers stream via the gates, many shouting “Save me a nigger!” I may odor the CS gasoline dropped from hovering helicopters and listened, with tears in my eyes, to the staccato popping of what I later realized have been rounds of double-O buckshot being emptied into the our bodies of inmates and hostages alike. So long as I reside, I’ll always remember these sounds and smells. Nor can I neglect how a trooper tried to run me down along with his automobile as I left the gate after the taking pictures had stopped.

Our final contact with the rebellious prisoners passed off on Sunday, September 12. On that day we entered D-Yard together with a tv crew from WGR-TV in Buffalo, who would ultimately tape the pleas of among the hostages that the authorities maintain off any makes an attempt to finish the takeover till additional negotiations might be held. Simply earlier than we left the ability, Commissioner Oswald confirmed us a doc he was about to ship into the yard. It contained a false assertion that we have been in settlement with him that the inmates ought to give up. We implored him to not ship it, as a result of we felt that it may cost us our lives.

Regardless of his assurance that he wouldn’t ship it in, he did so anyway. We have been then requested, for the primary time, to signal a common launch on behalf of ourselves and our heirs indicating that if something occurred to us contained in the yard, the state couldn’t be held liable. I’m firmly satisfied that Commissioner Oswald and others within the correction hierarchy—and maybe the Governor as properly—have been hoping that we’d be branded as traitors by the inmates and slain, so {that a} deliberate assault by the state might be legitimized within the public view. Fortuitously, the inmates have been way more understanding than the authorities, and didn’t fall for this grotesque try to present justification to an assault. After the latter had taken place, the press was instructed it had been crucial as a result of inmates have been slicing the throats of their hostages. This turned out to be a lie. Two days later, the Monroe County Coroner introduced that there had been no throats minimize, and that the entire casualties have been the results of gunfire.

It’s hoped that the pending lawsuit will reveal not solely the perfidy of the jail officers, however their refusal to reply to the numerous grievances filed by the inmates till their frustrations led them to blow up throughout that September of so way back. However its actual worth might be to emphasise that circumstances in our penitentiaries are, if something, worse than they have been in 1971, as may be seen from the current rise up on the Southport Correctional Facility close to Elmira, NY. It’s unhappy past phrases that, as Santayana as soon as put it, “Those that can not keep in mind the previous are condemned to repeat it.”

Excessive Instances Journal, October 1991

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