Today is the 40th anniversary of the Attica prison uprising. The New York Times features a nice opinion piece by Heather Ann Thompson highlighting the importance of this event.
In 1997, the inmates were awarded damages for the many violations of their civil rights and, though the state fought that judgment, in 2000 it had to pay out a settlement of $8 million. In 2005, the state reached a settlement with the guards and other workers for $12 million. The vast majority of the inmates and guards got far less than they deserved.
Despite having to pay damages, 40 years later, the State of New York still has not taken responsibility for Attica. It has never admitted that it used excessive force. It has never acknowledged that its troopers killed inmates and guards. It has never admitted that those who surrendered were tortured, nor that employees were misled.
We have all paid a very high price for the state’s lies and half-truths and its refusal to investigate and prosecute its own. The portrayal of prisoners as incorrigible animals contributed to a distrust of prisoners; the erosion of hard-won prison reforms; and the modern era of mass incarceration. Not coincidentally, it was Rockefeller who, in 1973, signed the law establishing mandatory prison terms for possession or sale of relatively small amounts of drugs, which became a model for similar legislation elsewhere.
This is particularly timely and poignant in light of the renewal of the Pelican Bay hunger strike.
And today at 7pm, a restored version of the 1974 film Attica will be shown at 518 Valencia St.
More details here.