On 13 September 1971, 39 people – 29 prisoners and 10 guards – were killed by bullets shot by the State of New York, fired from State Police guns, murdered by the state in order to suppress the Attica Revolt, the prisoners’ upsurge in New York in the United States.
The Attica Revolt of 1971 came amid escalating prison organizing and US government repression, as the Black Liberation movement grew throughout the United States and disproportionately Black prisoners – alongside revolutionary prisoners of all national and racial identities – organized against the racist oppression inside US prisons.
The Attica Revolt was sparked after the unjust and repressive segregation/isolation of two prisoners, after decades of injustice inside the prison. From 9 to 13 September 1971, the prisoners took control of Attica prison, holding 40 hostages and making a series of demands for changed conditions inside the prison; on 13 September, the state’s bloody attack shot the rebellion down.
The Attica Revolt came out of ongoing demands by the Attica Liberation Faction, whose five founders, Frank Lott, Herbert X. Blyden, Carl Jones-EL, Donald Noble and Peter Butler, were activists and revolutionaries. “We started teaching political ideology to ourselves. We read Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, Malcolm X, du Bois, Frederick Douglass and a lot of others. We tried a reform program on ourselves first before we started making petitions and so forth. We would hold political classes on weekends and point out that certain conditions were taking place and the money that was being made even though we weren’t getting the benefits,” wrote Carl Jones-EL.
They worked to provide political education to their fellow prisoners as well as addressing demands for reform and changed conditions to the state.
Today, the United States continues – as it has for centuries – its racist mass incarceration, particularly targeting Black and other oppressed communities, as it continues its imperial war on the peoples of the world, felt brutally in Palestine where the Zionist state is a key strategic partner of US imperialism.
The Attica prisoners’ Declaration echoes today as a call from the oppressed and systematically incarcerated as a means of colonial, economic and racial domination and control, from the United States to Palestine:
“The entire prison populace, that means each and every one of us here, have set forth to change forever the ruthless brutalization and disregard for the lives of the prisoners here and throughout the United States. What has happened here is but the sound before the fury of those who are oppressed. We will not compromise on any terms except those terms that are agreeable to us. We’ve called upon all the conscientious citizens of America to assist us in putting an end to this situation that threatens the lives of not only us, but of each and every one of you, as well. We have set forth demands that will bring us closer to the reality of the demise of these prison institutions that serve no useful purpose to the people…but to those who would enslave and exploit the people.”
Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network salutes the valiant prisoners who struggled not only in Attica, but in countless prisons then and now for revolutionary change and radical action, for freedom and liberation, and mourns the victims of state-sponsored mass murder. We echo the demands of the prisoners of Attica, of the prisoners of Palestine, who turned the cells of the oppressor into revolutionary schools for struggle, and who continue to do so today, educating and leading movements to end racist, colonialist, capitalist and imperialist oppression and exploitation.
For more information on the Attica Uprising, and key source for the above, please see Project NIA‘s Attica Prison Uprising 101: A Short Primer, by Mariame Kaba, available for download: https://niastories.files.wordpress.com/2011/08/attica_primerfinal.pdf