Thursday, 13 September 2018

Attica Prison Uprising,1971 and its legacy


Coming less than two weeks after the killing of imprisoned black revolutionary George Jackson and inmates at Attica Prison, attempted  to free a fellow inmate from his cell, after reports, that he was being tortured.And after  the inmates had tried to get their concerns addressed through proper and official channels, their frustration, after being ignored on a number of issues,ranging from substantial medical care, inadequate food and clothing, insufferable heat and the abusive and racially discriminatory treatment they received from their guards, (They had written to at least one state senator and sent numerous letters to the Department of Corrections) exploded and the prisoners revolted and took over the prison, taking a number of hostages at the time.
Four people, one guard and three prisoners, were killed in the early hours of the uprising. Then, for the next four days, a group of leaders  emerged out of the initial chaos to try and attempt to negotiate a peaceful surrender with state officials, while demanding amnesty for actions conducted during the uprising, as well as access to classes, religious freedom, and fairer disciplinary practices.
But what happened next was that on this  day, the rainy morning of 13 September, 1971, after negotiations for more humane treatment of prisoners  had broken down and the desperate prisoners had threatened their unharmed hostages, at the order of Governor Nelson Rockerfeller to retake the prison, tear gas was dropped into the yard and New York State  troopers randomly opened fire non-stop for two minutes into the smoke.Less than an a quarter of an hour after the assault on Attica had begun, the prison was bathed in blood. Thirty-nine people were killed in the disastrous assault, including 29 prisoners and 10 prison guards, and wounding 89.
At the time of the uprising, there were 2,400 inmates living in a facility built for 1,600. Though over 60 percent of inmates were Black and Latino the prison was completely run by white guards and employees, many of whom were openly racist. Attica on many accounts was a hellhole. The largest industry in a forsaken and impoverished upstate town, it was a place where urban blacks were locked up in bathroom-size cells only to be allowed one shower per week and one roll of toilet paper each month. Their mail was heavily censored to cut out anything involving prisons and prisoners’ rights. The medical neglect within the facility was criminal. Guards often pitted inmates against each other to incite racial violence.Inmates also labored for 40 cents a day, assembling mattresses, shoes and license plates.
The level of unity that developed among prisoners was nearly unprecedented. There were four days of negotiations, until then-Governor Nelson Rockefeller ordered state police to take back control of the prison by brutal force. When the uprising was over, at least 39 people were dead, hundreds were left maimed and wounded and the prisoners left were subjected to extreme brutality and torture. Those who were considered leaders, the prisoner negotiators, spokesmen and security men, were singled out for prolonged abuse. The example of the Attica prisoners uniting and standing up for their rights and dignity in the face of such intense repression inspired and electrified  people around the world.
The Attica prison uprising was by no means an isolated or spontaneous clash. It came as a revolutionary mood swept through Black and Latino communities and other progressive sectors of the population in the United States.By September 1971, the Civil Rights movement had transformed itself into a movement for national liberation among the Black, Puerto Rican and Chicano populations.Starting in 1964, rebellions swept urban areas throughout the United States. Major insurrections took place in Rochester, Harlem, Watts, Newark, Detroit and other cities. When Martin Luther King, Jr., was murdered in 1968 more than 120 cities went up in flames as young people battled police, National Guard units and state troopers.Revolutionary organizations like the Black Panther Party and Young Lords Party were militantly organizing in urban communities. Millions of people were protesting the Vietnam War and joining the women’s and LGBT liberation movements.
This revolutionary mood in the community sank deep roots within the prisoner population too. The Attica prisoners were reading revolutionary newspapers. They were studying Marx and Lenin, Mao, Ho Chi Minh, Kwame Nkrumah, and Franz Fanon and reading socialist, communist and revolutionary nationalist newspapers.Prisoners were staging uprisings all over the country, not just in Attica, New York. The rebellions were extensions of the national liberation struggles happening all over the United States.
In the aftermath of the bloody raid authorities said that the inmates had killed the slain hostages by slitting their throats. However, autopsies later revealed this to be false, and in fact all 10 hostages had been shot dead by police. In the bloody aftermath ,it turned into a manhunt: the enraged correction officers and troopers sought out those whom they thought of as ringleaders and executed them. Several of the dead among the leaders were seen alive well after the prison had been retaken. Some were shot as many as twelve times, at close range. Even the thirty-nine dead did not end the violence, as the guards forced the inmates to strip naked and then tortured them for most of the rest of the day and night. Any prisoner who troopers or CO’s considered to be a leader was chalked across the back with a large white X. As each one was made to run a gantlet of clubs, the officers would call out, “You want your amnesty? Well, come and get it.” The vengeful officers played Russian roulette with the inmates, and then forced them to drink the guards’ urine. One inmate, Frank (Big Black) Smith, who had been visible in the uprising, lay wounded on a table for many hours, made to clutch a football beneath his chin, and warned that if it dropped he would be killed. When he was released, he collapsed and the guards battered him repeatedly in the groin and anal region as he pleaded for mercy. In the week after its conclusion, police engaged in brutal reprisals against the prisoners, forcing them to run a gauntlet of nightsticks and crawl naked across broken glass, among other tortures. The many injured inmates received substandard medical treatment, if any.
The attempted cover-up increased public condemnation of the raid and prompted a Congresional investigation. In January 2000, New York State settled a 26-year-old class-action lawsuit filed by the Attica inmates against prison and state officials. For their suffering during the raid and the weeks following, the former and current inmates accepted $8 million.
The post Attic uprising years instead of leading to reform led to an even more punitive justice policy whichhas had very real social, political and economic consequences. First of all,tougher laws put in place led to extraordinarily high rates of incarcernation since 1971.Back then there were several hundred thousand in prison, today there are now well over  two million.
Currently inmates within America’s overflowing prisons are marking the end of a 19-day national prison strike last Sunday,that started symbolically on the anniversary of George Jackson's death. Though details of the protests have been sketchy since it was launched on 21 August, hunger strikes, boycotts of facilities and refusal to carry out work duties have been reported in many states from Florida and South Carolina to Washington to  draw attention to poor prison conditions and what many view as exploitative labor practices in American correctional facilities. The strike was formally brought to a close on the anniversary of the 1971 uprising at Attica prison  in upstate New York.
Now that the strike has ended, organisers hope its momentum can be sustained as they attempt to fulfill their demands including the restoration of the vote. Not only does the US have the world’s largest incarcerated population – 2.3 million are behind bars – it also harbors at state level some of the harshest felony disenfranchisement laws in the world.Prisoners  have also stated  that under the 13th Amendment which abolished racial slavery, at the same time it allowed human beings to be worked for free or next to nothing as long as they were prisoners. Prisoners see the current system of prison slavery to thus be a continuation of racial slavery, which is a system that generates billions of dollars in profits each year for major corporations in key industries such as fossil fuels, fast food, banking, and the US military.
One would think that slavery should not be legal under any circumstances and prisons should be staffed well-enough to ensure that inmates are not killed and sexually violated on a regular basis, surely these should not be controversial sentiments in the 21st-century. Many years after the Attica uprising the  cruel mass incarceration system in the USA that is still inherently merciless  must continue to be exposed. and shone a light upon.

No comments:

Post a Comment