Attica Prison Taken Over

Published: 1971
Play Audio Archive Story - UPI

Announcer: Four days had passed since the 1,200 inmates at the Attica State Correctional Facility in New York had taken over. They had 38 hostages. They made demands to the State Correctional Commissioner Russell Oswald, from what seemed to be a position of strength.

Unknown Speaker: “It seems to be that you and… I bear witness to your evil deeds, Mr. Oswald. Now I repeat, as I told you yesterday, we have been lenient with you. We are negotiating, we are talking, we shouldn't be, we should be demanding. Why? Because we have 35 lives, not hostages, and I repeat Mr. Oswald, a moment's hesitation will cause you their lives, don't play with us.”

Announcer: The situation developed into a tense standoff. Bobby Seale, Militant Chairman of the Black Panther Party was called to the scene. Attorney William Kunstler spoke to and for the inmates. Outsiders were called in to negotiate, but not one gave ground.

Then New York Governor, Nelson Rockefeller, gave the word, and more than 1,000 New York State troopers and local police stormed the prison.

Unknown Speaker: “How I wished I had a gas mask so I could be up there closer.

Now you hear the helicopter making another pass. This clearly is the move that we have been expecting. Again, you can hear gunfire.

“Someone’s inside there’s a PA System. There is a message from the hostages. The message is saying, release the hostages and lay down, release the hostages and lay down.”

Announcer: When it was over, confusion and false reports led to claims that inmates had cut the throats of hostages. But autopsy reports showed they had been shot in the assault by the weapons belonging to the police. One hostage, a prison guard, told of his ordeal.

Unknown Speaker: “The man that was behind me was an inmate that I had known for some time, and he was one of the inmates that took care of us and he whispered in my ears that I would not be hurt. He was supposed to stick a knife between my rib. He stuck the knife just to rip the skin. He said, now don't tell them that I didn't kill you. And then he threw me backwards, not on the mattresses, on the ground, and he covered my body with his. When it was over, he was dead.”

Announcer: Commissioner Oswald said the attack was the only way.

Russell Oswald: “I believe that if I had the choice I would undoubtedly have to do the same thing again.”

Announcer: 43 men eventually died from the Attica uprising. Attorney William Kunstler puts the blame for their deaths on Governor Rockefeller.

William Kunstler: “I call him a murderer, I am libeling him, under the law of our state. I dare him to sue me in any court he chooses to sue. He is a murderer, a corrupt, indecent figure, and under him other men were taught to kill, they murdered, just as we accused William Calley of murdering at My Lai. But they not only murdered their enemies, the prisoners, they murdered their employee, the guards.”

Announcer: Prisoners at the New Jersey State Prison in Rahway took over that facility on Thanksgiving Day. The next day the rebellion was over; no injuries, no deaths.

There were six men killed when inmates at San Quentin tried to escape; one of those killed was George Jackson. Jackson was the brother of Johnathan, who had been killed in a shootout in August, 1970, after he smuggled guns into a California courtroom to help three convicts escape. Part of that case is still untried.

In connection with that case, Angela Davis, the black self-proclaimed communist goes on trial in 1972, on charges of kidnapping and murder.

In a trial that was completed in 1971, Charles Manson and three female members of his so-called family were found guilty of the grotesque 1969 murders of actress Sharon Tate and four others.