From the Archives: ATTICA! ATTICA! (1991)

in Culture

By William M. Kunstier

September 13th marked the 20th anniversary of the retaking of D-Yard at the Attica State Correctional Facility—a maximum-security penitentiary in upstate New York—by the authorities. The military assault on the yard by an army of state troopers, correction officers and sheriff’s deputies resulted in the deaths of 33 inmates and 10 hostages, as well as severe injuries to scores of other prisoners. Many died from loss of blood or lack of adequate medical attention because of the state’s failure to provide enough physicians, nurses and plasma for the anticipated number of casualties. Following the attack, inmates were forced to run a gauntlet of baton-wielding officers or were otherwise brutalized.

Some 17 years ago, a devoted band of attorneys who had been involved in the legal proceedings that followed the retaking of the facility, filed a class action suit on behalf of the affected inmates in federal court in Buffalo, NY. The suit sought damages for both the brutality practiced against their clients and the lack of planning for adequate medical and personnel resources. The original defendants included the estate of Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, Correction Commissioner Russell Oswald, Warden Vincent Mancusi and his chief deputy. Although the Rockefeller attorneys succeeded in obtaining an order of dismissal for the estate, the suit against the other defendants has just been sustained by a federal appellate court, which also directed that a prompt trial take place.

In order to prepare for this trial—which, it is estimated, may take as long as six or seven months—an Attica Justice Committee has been formed. Among its hundred or so members are Susan Sarandon, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Spike Lee, Father Daniel Berrigan, Ramsey Clark, Bishop Paul Moore and painters Leon Golub and Nancy Spero. The committee’s purpose is to …

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Author: High Times / High Times

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