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"WE are MEN! We are not beasts and do not intend to be beaten or driven as such."

– The Attica Manifesto as read by L.D. Barkley

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Attica Prison Rebellion

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Attica Prison Rebellion

On Monday morning, September 13, 1971, an uprising by prisoners of the Attica Correctional Facility, a maximum security prison located in western New York, ended in the bloodiest prison confrontation in American history. Five days earlier, 1300 prisoners had revolted against inhumane conditions, taken over the prison, and held 40 guards hostage. The prison was a fortress, with a 30-foot-high, 2-foot-thick wall and 14 gun towers surrounding the compound. Inside the walls, the atmosphere was charged with racism.

Issuing a list of 28 demands—including calls for improvements in living conditions as well as educational and training opportunities—the prisoners were strong in their determination to win these demands when entering into negotiations with state officials. Under orders from New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, about 500 state troopers attacked the prison compound, firing more than 2,000 rounds of ammunition in nine minutes.

The assault left 43 people dead, including 10 guards who were being held as hostages.The rebellion was put down in murderous barrage of tear gas and gunfire, as state police and national guard troops attacked the prison.

Within minutes, the state retook the prison. But the repression was far from over. Prisoners were physically assaulted, burned with cigarettes and threatened with castration and death. These torture practices continued for months.

State officials tried to cover up what took place at Attica. The first reports from prison authorities claimed that rebelling prisoners slit the throats of guards when the assault began--a lie that the mainstream media were quick to spread. But autopsies of the dead hostages revealed that they had been killed by bullets from Rockefeller's gunmen. Many leaders of the prison rebellion were targeted for assassination during the attack.

In a 1992 trial, a jury found that Attica's former deputy warden was liable for having overseen brutal reprisals against prisoners. At the trial, survivors of the violence, including prisoners and prison employees, described how state troopers and guards forced naked prisoners to run over broken glass through a gauntlet of correction officers swinging nightsticks and other weapons. One of the things that triggered the timing of the prisoner rebellion was the assassination of George Jackson in San Quentin on August 21, 1971.

The story of the Attica Rebellion shows how people can build unity and fight back under the most repressive circumstances.

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