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Attica Means Fight Back
Two years ago, from Sept. 9-13th, Attica State Prison exploded when men long treated as animals rose up to demand their freedom. The prisoners held control for three days as negotiations with the State were held. On the fourth day, Nelson Rockefeller ordered an all out assault beginning with a gas attack and ending with an armed assault.
In the wake of police violence, forty-three lay dead. Thirty-three prisoners and ten guards were all killed by the rampaging police.
The following excerpts are taken from an interview we had with Rahaam Karanja, a national coordinator of the Attica Defense, and a prisoner during the revolt. Rahaam is presently under indictment for the Attica rebellion.
"When you first get to Attica you're given an orientation program where they say, 'If you're black, stay with blacks. If you're white stay with whites, if you want to leave here alive.' They make it plain they want it segregated.
"Then when you're out in the yard, you get ice to put in your thermoses. First you hear 'white ice' and all the white prisoners line up and get their ice. Then you hear 'black ice' and all the black prisoners get their ice. And don't you be changing lines because if you're black, that white ice won't cool your water.
"There was no educational program if you had above a fifth grade education. If you're not in school, then you work either raking the yard, kitchen duty, or in the metal shop. The metal shop makes 1.8 million dollars a year profit, but prisoners only get paid 25 cents a day. It used to be only 5 cents a day, but there was a sit down strike that forced the man to increase it a little.
"Visitors procedure was really hard. There was no personal contact allowed. You couldn't kiss your wife or hold your baby because there was a chicken wire fence between you and your family.
"The rebellion wasn't really planned. Everyone saw the need to bring this racist and repressive system to the public's attention. Everyone just knew what they had to do and we didn't need guards to protect us, or society. After the rebellion, there was an elected governing body which represented all of us and voiced our demands to the authorities.
"On the fourth day, state police and prison guards (who had orders not to come into the prison) attacked.
"Even after they'd subdued the prison, the police assassinated 3 prisoners who had been seen up to two hours after the police regained control. They were: Elliott "L.D." Barkley, a leading spokesman during the uprising; Sam Melville, 'the mad bomber,' known for his bombings against the state in protest against the war; and Tom Hicks All were assassinated.
"They stripped everyone else and made them lay down nude in the mud. Then they painted an 'X' on the alleged leaders backs and chests. They ran the alleged leaders out through a gate to other holding cells known as the block. A priest was on the outside of the gates with the wives and children of the guards. When they ran you through the gate, he would lead the kids in applause, saying 'there goes another nigger;' or to a white, 'there goes another nigger lover.' You had to run through a gauntlet of police who hit you with whatever they had--clubs, pipes or pistols. They especially aimed for the eyes and groin."
Attica was retaken by the state but the fight continues. Fifty-nine of the brothers that survived are on trial for the rebellion. These brothers are still confronting the system and they have made the following three demands on the state: 1. that the indictments on the prisoners be dropped, 2. that the indictments be brought against the police responsible for the killings, and 3. that the original 28 Just Demands of the Attica rebellion be instituted.
The trial must be one of the major focuses of the movement. Just as the Attica Brothers have not stopped, so must the movement support their struggle. The rebellion itself spoke of the needs long exploited. During the insurrection the prisoners--black, white, and Latin--united. They had no problem living together, struggling together and electing a government. They took the prison--not for ransom--but for the right to live as men, free from the racism and oppression of the prison and the government outside which had put them there and from which they will one day again be freed.
The Attica Brothers are in great need of financial assistance. If you wish to contribute or would like more information on this trial, contact: The Attica Defense Committee, 1370 Main Street, Buffalo, New York 14209. The phone is 716-884-4423.
Attica coverage will continue next issue.