From the Archives: ATTICA ATTICA! (1991)
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From the Archives: ATTICA ATTICA! (1991)

By William M. KunstierThe 13th of September marked the 20th anniversary since the authorities retook D-Yard, a maximum-security prison in upstate New York. The military assault by an army consisting of state troopers and correction officers, along with sheriff’s deputy, resulted in 33 deaths and 10 hostages. Scores of other prisoners were also severely injured. The state failed to provide enough doctors, nurses and plasma to treat the expected number of casualties. Many of these prisoners died due to blood loss or inadequate medical attention. Inmates were brutalized or forced to run through a maze of officers with batons after the attack. The suit sought damages both for the brutality against their clients as well as the lack of planning to provide adequate medical and staff resources. The estate of Gov. Nelson Rockefeller was the original defendant, along with Correction Commissioner Russell Oswald and Warden Vincent Mancusi, as well as his chief deputy. The Rockefeller attorneys were successful in obtaining a dismissal order for the estate. However, the suit against other defendants was just sustained by a federal appeals court, which also ordered that a quick trial be held. Susan Sarandon is one of the hundred or so members. Others include Ossie Davis Ruby Dee Spike Lee Father Daniel Berrigan Ramsey Clark Bishop Paul Moore and artists Leon Golub and Nancy Spero. The committee was formed to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the uprising, and to provide support to the Attica plaintiffs during the Buffalo trial. The estimated budget for the trial is $100,000. This will cover the costs of transporting witnesses to Buffalo. The former New York City Medical Examiner, Dr. Michael Baden; New York Times Columnist Tom Wicker and Malcom Bell are among those who have been involved in the trial. They include the former New York City Medical Examiner, Dr. Michael Baden; New York Times Columnist Tom Wicker, and Malcom, who as an assistant New York State Attorney General exposed the unfair prosecution against the Attica inmates. This led Governor Hugh Carey, to order the dismissal all charges against them. Rockefeller did not retake D-Yard until he had exhausted all peaceful means of resolving the conflict. Tragically, our efforts were not successful. On the morning of Monday, the 13th I stood at the prison entrance watching officers stream in, many of whom were shouting, “Save me a nigger!”. I could smell CS gas being dropped from hovering helicopters, and I listened with tears in my eye to the staccato pop of what I learned later was rounds of double-O buckshot being emptied onto the bodies of both inmates and hostages. I will never forget the sounds and smells as long as I am alive. I will never forget the way a trooper tried running me down with his vehicle as I walked out of the gate once the shooting stopped. Our last contact with the rebellious prisoner took place on September 12, Sunday. On that day, we entered D-Yard with a TV crew from WGR-TV Buffalo. They would later tape the pleas made by some of the hostages to the authorities that they hold off on any attempts to end this takeover until further negotiation could be held. Before we left, Commissioner Oswald handed us a document that he was going to send out into the yard. It stated that we agreed with him that inmates should surrender. We begged him not to send it because we thought it could cost us our lives. Despite his assurances that he wouldn’t send it in, it was sent anyway. For the first time we were asked to sign a release on behalf of our heirs and ourselves stating that the state would not be liable for anything that happened to us in the yard. I am convinced that Oswald, and perhaps others in the correctional hierarchy (and possibly the Governor) hoped that we would be labeled as traitors and killed by the inmates so that an attack by the State could be legitimized. Fortunately, inmates were more understanding than authorities and did not fall prey to this grotesque effort to justify an assault. After the assault, the press was informed that it was necessary because the inmates were slitting the throats of the hostages. This turned out not to be true. The Monroe County Coroner confirmed two days later that no throats had been cut and that all the deaths were due to gunfire. It is hoped that this lawsuit will reveal the perfidy on the part of prison officials who refused to address the grievances of the inmates before their frustrations caused them to explode that September. Its real value is to highlight that conditions in our prisons are worse today than they were back in 1971. This can be seen by the recent rebellion in the Southport Correctional Facility in Elmira, NY. It is beyond words that as Santayana said, “Those who can’t remember the past, are condemned to repeat the same mistakes.” High Times Magazine, October 1992Read the entire issue here.


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