45 Years After the Rebellion at Attica Penitentiary:
Resistance in America’s Hellhole Prisons
September 12, 2016 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
On September 9, 1971, the most powerful and significant prison rebellion in U.S. history erupted at Attica state prison in New York. Attica was part of the Black liberation struggle and the revolutionary upheaval of the 1960s. (AP Photo)
On September 9, 1971, the most powerful and significant prison rebellion in U.S. history erupted at New York’s Attica State Penitentiary. Over half of Attica’s 2,200 inmates, mainly Black but also white and Puerto Rican prisoners, seized control of large parts of the prison, taking 38 guards hostage. They declared: “We are men. We are not beasts, and we do not intend to be beaten and driven as such... What has happened here is but the sound before the fury of those who are oppressed...” On September 13, 1971, police, sheriffs, park police, and the National Guard launched a murderous assault at Attica prison in upstate New York, killing 39 unarmed people. Forty-five years later, the actual revolution that will end this kind of inhuman brutality is needed more urgently than ever. (See American Crime: Case #81: September 13, 1971—Massacre of Heroic Attica Prisoners.).
This year, on the anniversary of the Attica rebellion, there were courageous outbreaks of resistance inside U.S. prisons up to and on September 9.
Uprisings in Florida Prisons
On September 7, and lasting long into the night/early morning of September 8, more than 400 inmates at Florida’s Holmes Correctional Institution rose up in a series of protests that spread throughout the compound. It appears that at least one instigating factor was the authorities’ decision to keep prisoners confined to dangerously hot dormitories except at meal time, and deny them access to outdoor recreation of any kind.
Prisoners worked together to disrupt ways in which a dehumanizing network of surveillance cameras and guard posts keep prisoners under constant scrutiny. The sustained nature of the uprising involved protests breaking out in different dormitories. As the guards suppressed one outbreak, new protests erupted in other dormitories.
In a nation of hellish mass incarceration, Florida ranks third—behind Texas and California—in the number of people locked up. Over the past few years, glimpses of the conditions in the Florida prison system have come to light, including brutal or unexplained deaths of inmates, and a record number of use-of-force incidents by guards. In one such incident four years ago, Darren Rainey, a Black 50-year-old mentally ill prisoner serving a two-year term for drug possession at the Dade Correctional Institution, was savagely murdered by prison guards—forced into a scalding hot shower and left there for more than an hour. When guards finally opened the door, Darren was dead, with his skin shriveled and peeling from his body. One inmate said he saw Darren’s “burnt dead body” go by his cell on a stretcher. Another was told to clean up the scene, and said he found chunks of Darren’s skin in the shower and on Darren’s shoe that he was told to throw in the trash.
In response to the protests at Holmes, the Miami Herald reported that authorities re-established control “after setting off canisters of chemicals, making it hard for the prisoners to breathe.” There are reports that prisoners are confined to dorms, or being shipped to other locations. Prison authorities have imposed ominous censorship, denying prisoners access to the media to tell the truth about the conditions they face and the violence they were hit with.
On September 9, two additional Florida prisons (besides Holmes) were placed on lockdown, where prisoners are confined to their cells and dormitories. The Florida Department of Corrections, said “disturbances” had happened Friday morning at Gulf and Mayo Correctional Institutions, and smaller protests were reported in other prisons across the state. In a telling admission-in-the-form-of-a-lie, and as an indication of growing outrage in society over conditions in prisons, the Miami Herald reported that a spokeswoman for Florida prisons insisted the prisoners’ actions were “not in protest of ‘inhumane conditions’ or abuse.”
Prisoners and activists issued a call for prisoner strikes on September 9, the anniversary of Attica. They called on prisoners to refuse to work their jobs maintaining prisons, cooking meals, and working at jobs that produce profit for the prison system and private corporations. Calls for the strike included, “This is a call to end slavery in America. This call goes directly to the slaves themselves. We are not making demands or requests of our captors, we are calling ourselves to action. To every prisoner in every state and federal institution across this land, we call on you to stop being a slave, to let the crops rot in the plantation fields, to go on strike and cease reproducing the institutions of your confinement.”
Strike organizers are posting reports on Twitter including: In North Carolina, many prisoners refused to go to work on September 9, and suspected leaders were placed on lockdown in their cells. At the Central California Women’s Prison in Chowchilla, a number of women refused to work, and because of the nationwide prison strike, and fear of an uprising, the prison was locked down stopping ALL slave labor! And, women at the Fluvanna prison in Troy, Virginia, participated in the strike, as well as women in a Kansas prison.
A report from inside Holman prison in Alabama said that at “12:01 Sept 9th, all inmates at Holman Prison refused to report to their prison jobs without incident. With the rising of the sun came an eerie silence as the men at Holman laid on their racks reading or sleeping. Officers are performing all tasks.”
Chelsea Manning Initiates Hunger Strike
While in the U.S. Army, Chelsea Manning leaked a secret video showing U.S. soldiers in a helicopter gunning down Iraqi civilians, journalists, and passersby who tried to aid the wounded and dying—the infamous “Collateral Murder” video. For that heroic act, she is serving a 35-year sentence at the maximum security military prison at Fort Leavenworth for exposing U.S. war crimes.
At the time of her arrest six years ago (when she was known as Bradley Manning), Chelsea Manning was a transitioning female. During her time in prison, she has been subjected to inhumane physical and psychological torture directed at trans people in U.S. prisons.
In a statement on September 9, Chelsea Manning said:
Today, I have decided that I am no longer going to be bullied by this prison—or by anyone within the U.S. government. I have asked for nothing but the dignity and respect—that I once actually believed would be provided for—afforded to any living human being.
I do not believe that this should be dependent on any arbitrary factors—whether you are cisgender [people who are not transgender] or transgender; service member or civilian, citizen or non-citizen. In response to virtually every request, I have been granted limited, if any, dignity and respect—just more pain and anguish.
I am no longer asking. Now, I am demanding. As of 12:01 am Central Daylight Time on September 9, 2016, and until I am given minimum standards of dignity, respect, and humanity, I shall—refuse to voluntarily cut or shorten my hair in any way; consume any food or drink voluntarily, except for water and currently prescribed medications; and comply with all rules, regulations, laws, and orders that are not related to the two things I have mentioned. (Read the entire statement here.)
Chelsea Manning should not be in prison in the first place. Her persecution by the U.S. government was a move to silence and terrorize other whistleblowers who expose war crimes. And nobody should ever be subjected to the systematic, depraved abuse of lesbians, gays, bi-sexual, or trans people that is institutionalized throughout the U.S. prison system.
A Radically Different and Better World Is Necessary and Possible
The mass incarceration of millions in America’s hellhole prisons is a crime against humanity. It serves to violently enforce the needs and interests of a system of exploitation and oppression. An ACTUAL revolution will not only end this crime against humanity, it will unleash as many prisoners as possible as positive factors in the ongoing revolutionary transformation of society.
The prisoners who have stepped out and stood up to the barbaric conditions they are subjected to have done so at great risk. Everyone with a conscience must stand with them, and oppose moves by the authorities to punish them. And these courageous acts pose the biggest questions about the nature of a system that brands itself the model of human rights, but finds it necessary to lock up more people than any other country under the most horrific conditions.
The actions of these prisoners create an opening, and a real challenge to those who see that the world does not have to be this way: to connect people with a scientific understanding of the problem, and enlist them in the solution.
How the new revolutionary society will address this situation is blueprinted in the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America, written by Bob Avakian and adopted by the Central Committee of the Revolutionary Communist Party. “Article III. Rights of the People and the Struggle to Uproot All Exploitation and Oppression” includes a section “Legal and Civil Rights and Liberties.” We are reprinting part of that section on this page, and strongly encourage readers to dig into and promote the whole Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America.
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