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Uprising at Attica Prison, Part 3

WARNING:  THIS VIDEO CLIP CONTAINS GRAPHIC PICTURES AND EXPLICIT LANGUAGE USED BY ANGRY, UPSET PEOPLE WHO WERE INVOLVED IN THE ATTICA PRISON UPRISING.  PROCEED WITH CAUTION.

It was 9:46am when a state police helicopter started dropping tear gas over the Attica prison yard and walkways where inmates were holding the hostages at knife-point.

Gunfire broke out, and within 6 minutes, 2,200 lethal missiles were discharged. The use of shotguns, with their imprecise range, increased the bloodshed.

Governor Nelson Rockefeller - who refused to come to Attica himself - had been assured that every precaution would be taken to avoid harm, but as he followed the operation by phone it became apparent that the attack had been anything but orderly.

Ten hostages and twenty-nine inmates died - a horrific toll that was especially appalling after it was revealed that all the hostages had died from gunshots inflicted by state troopers and guards.

Rockefeller was also spared the sight of the capture’s grim aftermath.

Once the prison was reclaimed, guards, enraged by the events, ordered the inmates to crawl naked into the yard, beating them with clubs as they passed through. One of the leaders, Frank Smith, was stripped naked and forced to lie on a table balancing a football under his chin for hours, threatened with being shot if he let it fall to the ground.

The extent of the chaos was not acknowledged by Governor Rockefeller, who said that the state troopers had done "a superb job."

One year later, an investigative commission would reach a very different conclusion.

Its report stated that the operation had been ill-conceived, poorly executed and probably unnecessary, and stressed the fact that Rockefeller should have gone to Attica, "because his responsibilities as the State’s chief executive made it appropriate that he be present at the scene of the critical decision involving great risk of loss of life."

In spite of the public outrage, Nelson Rockefeller’s hard-line stance in the Attica crisis made him more palatable to the conservatives who were now in control of the Republican Party. He never publicly regretted the way he handled the situation, saying only that he wished he had been more aware of the "tremendous need that existed" at the Attica facility.

Yet the impact of the Attica crisis would be long lasting.  In August 2000, almost thirty years after the prisoners' revolt, the state of New York paid up to $8 million to the 1,280 men harassed during the attack, after their lawyers filed a class-action lawsuit against prison and state officials in 1974.

The verdict, however, had little echo within the walls of the Attica Correctional Facility, where overcrowding remains a problem.

Families of prisoners, who were killed during the riot, also filed litigation. It was reported that the State of New York eventually settled those lawsuits as well, at a significant sum per case.

See, also:

Attica Prison Riot, Part 1

Attica Prison Riot, Part 2

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5183stories and lessons created

Original Release: Oct 07, 2013

Updated Last Revision: Sep 22, 2019


Media Credits

This clip, from "A Nation of Law? (1968-1971)," is part of the PBS series "Eyes on the Prize."

Clip online, courtesy PBS.

 

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"Uprising at Attica Prison, Part 3" AwesomeStories.com. Oct 07, 2013. Sep 22, 2019.
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