The Crime: On September 13, 1971, police, sheriffs, park police, and the National Guard launched a murderous assault at Attica in upstate New York, killing 39 unarmed people.
Four days earlier, on September 9, the most powerful and significant prison rebellion in U.S. history had erupted at Attica. 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.
The uprising was fueled by the guards’ routine abuse, horrific living conditions, the state’s refusal to address their grievances, and the racism and national oppression permeating Attica and U.S. society. Many Attica prisoners had been radicalized by the upheavals of the 1960s, and the August 21 murder of the revolutionary prisoner and leader George Jackson, by guards at California’s San Quentin prison, hit them very hard, sparking a silent fast in protest.
The spirit of the Attica Brothers, as they came to be called, was captured by their 21-year-old spokesman L.D. Barkley: “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...”