by Karima Amin
On September 9, 1971, a group of courageous Black prisoners at Attica Prison in Wyoming County, New York, instigated a 5-day prison uprising that would shock this nation and the world. In this rebellion, the bloodiest prison rebellion in America’s history, 10 prison guards and 39 prisoners were murdered by New York State Troopers and soldiers from the New York National Guard, who had been deployed by Governor Nelson Rockefeller at the behest of President Richard M. Nixon. The prisoners stood up and demanded better medical treatment, fair visitation rights, better sanitation, improved food quality, and opportunities for education. Their feelings and a list of 27 demands were summed up in a now famous quote delivered by a prisoner, Elliot L. D. Barkley who said: “We are Men! We are not beasts and do not intend to be beaten or driven as such. The entire prison populace has set forth to change forever the ruthless brutalization and disregard for the lives of the prisoners here and throughout the United States. What has happened here is but the sound before the fury of those who are oppressed.”
According to some reports, Barkley was shot in the back by an officer a few days after the uprising.
Every year in September, Prisoners Are People Too Inc. devotes its monthly meeting to remembering the Attica Prison Rebellion of 1971. Often referred to as a “riot,” this event was much more than that. It was a rebellion, an uprising that was orchestrated by a group of prisoners who were frustrated with trying to survive in an environment of racism and unrelenting brutality. Previous monthly meetings in September have featured films and guest speakers that have given us a better understanding of what happened in 1971. Prof. Terri Miller and her students from SUNY Buffalo have shared films they were allowed to produce after meeting prisoners at Attica in recent years., “Encountering Attica” and “Attica: The Bars That Bind Us.” We have screened Cinda Firestone’s “Attica” which was produced in 1974 as well as “Against the Wall, “ featuring Samuel L. Jackson, produced in 1994. We have had the pleasure of hosting the former Deputy Speaker of the NYS Assembly, Mr. Arthur O. Eve whose compassion for prisoners was first recognized in the late 1960 ‘s. During his tenure, Mr. Eve did not fear political backlash or avoid prison reform issues. He served as an observer and negotiator in the wake of the 1971 Attica Prison Rebellion. He was critical of Gov. Rockefeller’s decision to ignore the prisoners’ requests and to pursue the tactical measures that resulted in the massacre of so many officers and prisoners.
This year, we have the honor of hosting Mr. John Boyd who was a prisoner at Attica in 1971. He remembers what happened in 1971 and he realizes, 44 years later, that very little has changed. In a 2013 report, the Correctional Association of NY, which advocates for a more humane and effective criminal justice system, by educating the public about what goes on behind prison walls, described Attica Prison as being a symbol of what is wrong in prisons across the state with its “systemic and brutal staff-inflicted physical assaults, verbal and racial harassment, threats, intimidation, and excessive use of punishment and solitary confinement.”
Come to our next monthly meeting on Monday, September 28. Hear Mr. John Boyd’s story and sign a petition to close Attica. Our next monthly meeting will be at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo, from 7:00-9:00pm For more information: Karima Amin, firstname.lastname@example.org, 716-834-8438; BaBa Eng, email@example.com, 716-491-5319.
“God has not called us to see through each other, but to see each other through.” (Anonymous)