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2003-09-11

Sept. 9-13, 1971: New York State Troopers Kill 39 Men in Raid To End Attica Prison Uprising

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The rebellion began on Sept. 9 as a protest against jail conditions and ended on Sept. 13 as one of the bloodiest days in the 20th century in the U.S. The state of New York eventually paid the surviving prisoners $12 million in damages for killing, beating and torturing prisoners. [Includes transcript]

Click here to read to full transcript

32 years ago on Sept. 11, the Attica prison in upstate New York was in the middle of a five-day uprising. Nearly 1,300 prisoners took control of the prison to protest the inhumane treatment at the facility. The unnamed prisoners took control of the prison for four days and held 39 prison guards hostage. There was no attempted escape. Negotiations between the inmates and the state took place. Then on Sept. 13, Gov. Nelson Rockefeller ordered armed state troopers to raid the prison.

It would become one of the bloodiest days of the 20th century in the United States. Troopers shot indiscriminately over 2000 rounds of ammunition. 39 men would die, 29 prisoners and 10 guards. After the shooting stopped, police beat and tortured scores of more prisoners. 90 of the surviving prisoners were seriously wounded but were initially denied medical care. And the state would originally claim that all of the guards had died at the hands of the inmates. The New York Times reported on its front page the throats of all of the guards were slashed. But it was lies. The guards had been shot dead during the raid. After a quarter century of legal struggles, the state of New York would eventually award the surviving prisoners of Attica $12 million in damages.

We are going to close today’s show by broadcasting an excerpt from the film Ghosts of Attica a Lumiere Production for Court TV.

The story is told by Frank "Big Black" Smith, a prisoner who played a prominent role in the rebellion, and Liz Fink, who served as the lead counsel for former Attica prisoners in their civil rights case.

After his release from prison, Frank "Big Black" Smith became a paralegal and litigant in a lawsuit that resulted in a $12 million settlement with prisoners after a 26-year legal battle, one of the longest court battles in New York history.

  • Ghosts of Attica, a Lumiere Production for Court TV made by Brad Lichenstein and David Van Taylor. For more information on the film contact First Run Icarus Films at 800-876-1710 or visit the website frif.com.

TRANSCRIPT

JUAN GONZALEZ: 32 years ago today on September 11th, the Attica Prison in upstate New York was in the middle of five day uprising. Nearly 1300 prisoners took control of the prison to protest the inhumane treatment at the facility. The unnamed prisoners took control for four days and held 39 guards hostage. There was no attempted escape. Negotiations between the inmates and the state took place. Then on September 13, then Governor Nelson Rockefeller ordered armed state troopers to raid the prison.

AMY GOODMAN: It would become one of the bloodiest days of the 20th century in the United States. Troopers shot indiscriminately over 2,000 rounds of ammunition, 39 men would die, 29 prisoners, ten guards after shooting. After the shooting stop police beat and tortured scores of more prisoners. 90 of the surviving prisoners were seriously wounded but were initially denied medical care. And New York State would originally claim all the guards had died at the hands of the prisoners. The New York Times reported on its front page the throats of all the guards were slashed. It was lies. The guards had been shot dead during the raid by the New York state troopers. After a quarter century of legal struggles, the state of New York would eventually award surviving prisoners of Attica 12 million dollars in damages. We’re going to close today’s September 11th special by broadcasting an excerpt from the film "Ghosts of Attica," a Lumiere production which was made for Court TV. The story is told by Frank "Big Black" Smith, a prisoner who played a prominent role in the rebellion and who was tortured by the troops, and Liz Fink, who served as the lead counsel for the former Attica prisoners.

BIG BLACK: I heard the helicopter, the helicopter says, lay down, put your hands on your head, you will not be harmed. And I complied.

BIG BLACK: They had us boxed in. They were shoot down at us. I couldn’t crawl, I literally couldn’t crawl. SOUND: Surrender peacefully. You will not be harmed.

BIG BLACK: I remember am inmate said this guy’s bleeding, he’s bleeding. I didn’t know he was referring to me. Everywhere you looked around all you seen was killing, shooting, everything, they came across.

AMY GOODMAN: People laying all over. They’re all bleeding and bloody and stuff. You know, so everybody know now that is real, that this is it. They’re here now. They in the yard now. They got control.

LIZ FINK: State troopers just took their clubs and beat them down the stairs. Broke people’s legs. Hit them on the tibia, broke tibias. On their back, on their heads, in their genitals, on their front, you know, wherever they could hit them, that’s where they beat them.

BIG BLACK: I’m telling you my name is being called, where is Big Black, where is Big Black? Get up Black, get up. He busted me with a Nigger stick, pickaxe, and got a .38 in his hand. And I gets up and, he bam, in my side, in my back, made me run with my hand on my head over to the side and before I got over there two or three more correction officers with him now and everybody is hitting me. And he made me spread eagle on the table. Here I am laying down looking up at the catwalk and cigarettes and spitting shells are they should their guns–they are dropping them down on me. And I’m there with a football up under my chin–and that football better stay there, because if it falls then you’re gonna die sooner than you expect to die. I’m not in charge now. You know I’m back to they reality. They’re going to show you the humiliation that they’re doing to me and everybody in the yard. (?) Security chief, what do you got to say about it now?

LIZ FINK: They got mad, wanted to teach the lesson to their third world population. And let all this evil go down. You have at least 88 people who are shot so severely that they need immediate surgery. There was absolutely no preparation made to treat the inmates. No blood, no plasma, no bandages, no fluids, no pain killers, no surgical, nothing. Nothing, nothing, nothing was done. L.D. Barkley was shot. The shot went through and collapsed his lung. Couldn’t get medical treatment. And he bled to death.

AMY GOODMAN:: An excerpt of "Ghosts of Attica" a Lumiere production for Court TV made by Brad Liechtenstein and David van Taylor. If you want more information on that film you can contact First Run Icharus Films. And Juan, more September 11th in history as we conclude our September 11th special.


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