Attica prison riots: three words that made history in 1971, when half of the prison’s 2,200 inmates rebelled against their poor living conditions and took several guards hostage for four days. As police and the National Guard stormed in to put an end to the crisis, ten guards and thirty-three prisoners died. Of those 43 deaths, 39 were at the hands of the officials. 89 more were wounded.
Now, the Attorney General for New York State wants a judge to unseal documents related to the riots, which were created in an effort to investigate the prison and the atrocities that occurred over the hostage period. Part of the report was released just after the riots and contain “important omissions” in the evidence gathered by state police afterward and the possible conflict of interest with troopers investigating their fellow officers’ actions in retaking the prison. It found no intentional cover-up by prosecutors but faulted police for bad planning and failing to account for the rifles, shotguns and pistols used and bullets, slugs and buckshot fired by individual officers.”
“It is important, both for families directly affected and for future generations, that these historical documents be made available so the public can have a better understanding of what happened and how we can prevent future tragedies,” Eric Schneiderman said.
Over 350 pages have remained sealed, which contain grand jury testimony as well as that of witnesses. Schneiderman says the names of those people will be redacted for their protection, and for the protection of their families. For now, the speculation that the grand jury might have been “biased” against indicting members of law enforcement is driving some of the desire for the release of those documents.
Jonathan E. Gradess, a lawyer who is assisting with the case on behalf of the families of the victims, says there are a lot of people who just want closure after all these years.
“Nobody cares about the motivation. We want to know what happened. What happened in the Indian summer of 1971 when the state deployed attack helicopters over one of its own prisons? There’s never closure for the victims and survivors of violence, but there is the need to obtain information,” he said.
Image: Wikimedia Commons