DAA Daily

The Attica Prison Rebellion Cover Up

By Ana Chauhan, Daily Digest Editor, The Pawprint

In 1974, lawyers representing the 1,281 inmates filed a $2.8 billion class-action lawsuit against prison and state officials. It took 18 years before the suit came to trial, and five more years to reach the damages phase, delays that were the fault of a lower-court judge opposed to the case. 

In January 2000, New York State and the former and current inmates settled for $8 million, which was divided unevenly among about 500 inmates, depending on the severity of their suffering during the raid and the weeks following. 

On the morning of September 9th, 1971, a riot began at Attica Correctional Facility. Inmates that were on their way to breakfast overpowered their guards and stormed the prison in a spontaneous uprising. Due to a faulty gate, they were able to break into a central area of the prison, which gave them access to all of the cell blocks. 

The riot was caused by high tensions in the prison due to the severe over-population and inmates being denied basic sanitation rights. Testimonies from prisoners stated that they were limited to one shower a week and one roll of toilet paper a month. Additionally, there were allegations that the guards would censor the inmates’ mail, refusing to send and distribute any letters that were not written in English.

Most of the 2,200 inmates joined in the riot. They assaulted guards, acquired makeshift weapons, and burnt down the prison’s chapel. One of the guards that was attacked, William Quin, was thrown out a second-story window and died from his injuries two days later. 

Later that day, state police regained control of most of the prison. However, half of the convicts still occupied D yard, a large exercise field. D yard was surrounded by 35-foot tall walls and gun towers. Thirty-nine hostages that mostly consisted of guards and other faculty were blindfolded and made to sit in a tight circle. They were closely guarded by prisoners armed with knives and other deadly weapons.

The leaders of the riot put together a list of demands, which included more religious freedom, improved living conditions, expanded phone privileges, and amnesty for those involved. They also called for U.S representative Herman Badillo and New York Times columnist Tom Wicker to serve as negotiators. 

At the same time, New York governor Nelson A. Rockefeller called in the national guard and hundreds of state troopers arrived at Attica. 

On September 13th, an ultimatum called on the inmates to surrender. They responded by putting knives against the hostage’s throats. At 9:45 am, helicopters flew over the yard, dropping tear gas canisters as state police and correctional officers stormed the yard. The police fired 3,000 rounds into the haze that killed 29 inmates, 10 hostages, and wounded 89. Many others were savagely beaten. 

After the raid, authorities said the inmates had killed some of the hostages by slitting their throats, however, autopsies showed that this was not true and the 10 hostages that died were shot to death by police. The attempted cover-up increased public condemnation of the raid. 

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