TML Monthly Supplement

No. 20

September 9, 2021


50th Anniversary of the Attica Prison Uprising
September 9-13, 1971

Attica Means Fight Back! Close Attica Down Now!

Prisoners Condemn Slave Labour in the Prisons

About the Attica Uprising

- Attica Is All of Us -
Dacajeweiah: Childhood and Youth

- John Steinbach -




50th Anniversary of the Attica Prison Uprising
September 9-13, 1971

Attica Means Fight Back! Close Attica Down Now!

Live Streaming Events, September 9 and 13
Attica Then and Now

 

 
To register, click here.

TML is dedicating this supplement to the Rebellion at the Attica Maximum Security Prison in upstate New York which started on September 9, 1971 and ended with the brutal massacre conducted by New York State Troopers sent in by Governor Nelson Rockefeller on September 13, 1971.

We are providing the history as recorded by Attica Is All of Us Coalition, as well as an excerpt from the Memorial delivered by John Steinbach on Attica Brother Dacajeweiah (Splitting the Sky) at his funeral in 2013. Dacajeweiah was put into the U.S. prison system and ended up at Attica where he took part in the rebellion. He was subsequently condemned to life in prison on false charges that he killed a prison guard during the uprising.

Our thoughts go out to Dacajeweaiah who passed away in 2013 from all the trauma he experienced throughout his life and to all the Attica Brothers on this occasion as well as to all those families, resistance fighters, justice-seeking lawyers and advocates for those incarcerated by the U.S. prison system. They have fought and continue to fight to end this brutal racist and inhuman system of injustice which prevails in the United States. They contribute enormously to the creation of a society which affirms the rights of all without exception. Their experience is proof that Our Security Lies in the Fight for the Rights of All.

With our deepest respects, we dedicate this issue of TML Supplement to all the men, women and youth valiantly fighting to abolish the racist U.S. prison system and those in other countries including Canada.[1]

Join the work of Attica Is All of Us! For information click here.

Note

1. In the 1970s, the U.S. prison system was crumbling. In Walpole, San Quentin, Soledad, Angola and many other prisons, the prisoners fought to defend their rights. Since the 1970s, the prisoner population has ballooned and technologies of control and confinement have developed into the most sophisticated and repressive in world history. The prisons have become more dependent on slavery and torture to maintain their stability. Many are private, with the judges who send the prisoners to serve time owning the prisons and reaping the profits of monies received from the state for the maintenance of the prisoners which they pocket.

The U.S. calls itself the model of democracy in the world but is the greatest abuser of human rights ever. There were roughly 2.12 million people incarcerated in the United States in 2020 out of a population of 329,064,917 people. By comparison, the estimated prison population in China in 2020, totalled 1.71 million people for a country with a population of 1,433,783,686 people.

In Canada, the system is no less racist and inhumane. In 2017/18, on any given day 38,786 adults and 792 youth (aged 12 to 17 years) were incarcerated in Canada (federal and provincial), for a total of 39, 578 prisoners.

In Canada, compared to all other categories of accused persons, Indigenous people continue to be jailed younger, denied bail more frequently, granted parole less often and hence released later in their sentence, over-represented in segregation, over represented in remand custody, and more likely to be classified as higher risk offenders. They are more likely to have needs in categories like employment, community integration, and family supports. (Parkes 2012; Green 2012)

Although Indigenous adults represent only about three per cent of the adult population in Canada, they are over represented in admissions to provincial and territorial correctional services; in 2015-2016, they accounted for 26 per cent of admissions. (Statistics Canada 2016) Among women, 38 per cent of those admitted to provincial and territorial sentenced custody were Indigenous, while the comparable figure for men was 26 percent of admissions identified as Indigenous. (Ibid.) In the federal correctional services, Indigenous women accounted for 31 per cent of female admissions to sentenced custody, while Indigenous men accounted for 23 per cent of admissions. (Ibid.)

The discrepancies between Indigenous and non-Indigenous incarceration rates are more pronounced in certain jurisdictions than in others. For example, while the proportion of Indigenous persons sentenced to imprisonment is double their representation in the Quebec population, in Saskatchewan the proportion of Indigenous inmates is roughly seven times higher than their representation in the provincial population. Although the problem of over representation of Indigenous adults in corrections is a general problem in most jurisdictions, particularly for remand and sentenced custody, the problem is more pronounced in the Western provinces.

(Photo and illustration: Attica News, Project NIA)

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Prisoners Condemn Slave Labour in the Prisons


Lansing, Michigan, September 9, 2016

Prisoners across the U.S., their families and justice-seeking lawyers and activists continue to oppose the conditions of incarceration in the U.S., including the torture of solitary confinement, insufficient health care, rotten food and denial of prisoners' right to pursue their education.

Their actions particularly oppose the super exploitation of prisoners as modern-day slaves. Many prisoners are forced to work for nothing or next to nothing, staffing call centres, producing uniforms and other products for monopolies and state governments as well as working in relief operations, infrastructure projects and the like.

Five years ago, on September 9, 2016 and for days after, on the occasion of the 45th anniversary of the Attica Rebellion, some 50,000 prisoners participated in acts of resistance, refusing to go to work. This mass organized resistance was all the more significant because of the prison conditions. Lead organizers faced reprisals from prison officials by being moved or put into solitary confinement. Nonetheless, they vowed to continue their work.

Prisoners' ability to organize such a widespread strike as well as support on the outside under such difficult conditions is a tribute to their determination and refusal to submit. It is a quality to be supported and defended by all.

Leading up to September 9 and on that day, there were many actions across the country in support of the strike. From Florida to Washington State to Texas and Massachusetts, people organized demonstrations, film showings, teach-ins, discussion groups, letter writing to prisoners and much more. Everywhere, efforts were made to build relationships with the prisoners and to ensure their voices were heard outside the prison walls. Banner-drops, rallies, postering, call-ins to officials and media, all served to let the public know that prisoners were organizing resistance and refusing to be silenced.


Pittsburgh, September 9, 2016.

Mass incarceration in the U.S. is a form of mass control and genocide, directed especially against national minorities and Indigenous people but impacting everyone. The large majority of prisoners are there for non-violent drug offenses. They are kept there and often forced into solitary confinement for resisting and defending their rights.

The U.S. ranks second in the rate of incarceration in the world (behind the Seychelles) -- 698 adult prisoners per 100,000 people; while the U.S. has 4.4 percent of the world's population, it incarcerates 22 per cent of prisoners worldwide, and also has the highest number of prisoners worldwide, 2.2 million. African Americans and national minorities make up the majority of prisoners.

The issues being brought forward by the prisoners and the massive rate of incarceration in the U.S. is an indictment of the ruling circles' chauvinism that the U.S. is a great defender of human rights. It is also an indictment of the social, political and electoral system of the ruling circles that leads to high rates of imprisonment, deprives the people of political empowerment and denies the existence of this and many other social problems by debasing politics to the most crass electioneering. It is yet another indication of the need for profound pro-social change that the people of the U.S. must organize to bring into being.

In the words of the prisoners themselves:

"Prisoners are forced to work for little or no pay. That is slavery. The 13th amendment to the U.S. Constitution maintains a legal exception for continued slavery in U.S. prisons. It states "neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States.

"Overseers watch over our every move, and if we do not perform our appointed tasks to their liking, we are punished. They may have replaced the whip with pepper spray, but many of the other torments remain: isolation, restraint positions, stripping off our clothes and investigating our bodies as though we are animals."

They referred to their actions as "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.

"This is a call for a nation-wide prisoner work stoppage to end prison slavery [...] They cannot run these facilities without us.

"Non-violent protests, work stoppages, hunger strikes and other refusals to participate in prison routines and needs have increased in recent years.

"The 2010 Georgia prison strike, the massive rolling California hunger strikes, the Free Alabama Movement's 2014 work stoppage, have gathered the most attention, but they are far from the only demonstrations of prisoner power. Large, sometimes effective hunger strikes have broken out at Ohio State Penitentiary, at Menard Correctional in Illinois, at Red Onion in Virginia as well as many other prisons.

"The burgeoning resistance movement is diverse and interconnected, including immigrant detention centers, women's prisons and juvenile facilities. Last fall, women prisoners at Yuba County Jail in California joined a hunger strike initiated by women held in immigrant detention centers in California, Colorado and Texas.

"Prisoners all across the country regularly engage in myriad demonstrations of power on the inside. They have most often done so with convict solidarity, building coalitions across race lines and gang lines to confront the common oppressor. [...]

"We hope to end prison slavery by making it impossible, by refusing to be slaves any longer.

"To achieve this goal, we need support from people on the outside. A prison is an easy-lockdown environment, a place of control and confinement where repression is built into every stone wall and chain link, every gesture and routine. When we stand up to these authorities, they come down on us, and the only protection we have is solidarity from the outside.

"Mass incarceration, whether in private or state-run facilities is a scheme where slave catchers patrol our neighborhoods and monitor our lives. It requires mass criminalization. Our tribulations on the inside are a tool used to control our families and communities on the outside. Certain Americans live every day under not only the threat of extra-judicial execution -- as protests surrounding the deaths of Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland and so many others have drawn long overdue attention to -- but also under the threat of capture, of being thrown into these plantations, shackled and forced to work.

"Our protest against prison slavery is a protest against the school to prison pipeline, a protest against police terror, a protest against post-release controls. When we abolish slavery, they'll lose much of their incentive to lock up our children, they'll stop building traps to pull back those who they've released. When we remove the economic motive and grease of our forced labor from the U.S. prison system, the entire structure of courts and police, of control and slave-catching must shift to accommodate us as humans, rather than slaves.

"Prison impacts everyone [...] we need to know our friends, families and allies on the outside will have our backs.

"Step up, stand up, and join us. Against prison slavery. For liberation of all."

Support Prisoner Resistance!


Support for hunger striking prisoners at Pelican Bay in California, 2011.

(Photos: itsgoingdown.org)

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About the Attica Uprising

The History

For the more comprehensive and detailed history of the Attica Uprising, including the national, political, and inside events that led to the rebellion on September 9, 1971, as well as the hour-by-hour and day-by-day description of the rebellion as it unfolded, the harrowingly violent state's retaking of the prison on September 13, 1971, the extraordinary accounts of how the Attica Brothers, lawyers, and community activists banded together to fight state attempts to indict them instead of troopers, and finally the comprehensive chronicling of the Brothers' nearly 30 year battle to be heard in their civil case click here. That Attica resource page includes the books, articles, documentary films, memoirs, and links to documents, archives, and other resources that, collectively, tell that broader story. For the more general overview of the Attica Uprising and its Aftermath, scroll down...

The Background

One can't understand Attica, and all that happened there in 1971, without remembering what had been taking place in the nation as whole -- on the streets as well as in prisons -- throughout the previous decade. From states like California, New York, and Mississippi; and cities like Chicago, Newark and Detroit; and in prisons as far flung as Angola and Auburn, as well as in urban jails like Wayne County, Cook County, and LA County, people from across the country had been mobilizing to fight oppression, injustice, and inequality. Time and again, however, these determined grassroots demands to end this country's most racist and sexist practices and policies were met with a most violent response from state officials. Be it in Selma in 1965, or Chicago in 1968, or Orangeburg in 1969, or at Jackson State and Kent State in 1970, those with power in this country made clear to anyone who might dare to change this nation for the better, that doing so might well mean risking your life.

For those locked in Attica in 1970, there seemed little choice but to take that risk.

The State of New York had been spending only 63 cents a day feeding these men, giving them a single roll of toilet paper a month, and forcing them to work for mere pennies an hour. The medical care in this prison was also barbaric, the racial abuse was rampant, and the cell HBZ [Housing Block Z] unit and cell lockdowns were capricious and lengthy. Those inside of Attica resisted these conditions in any way they could. They were inspired to speak out by the grim situation in this prison, as well as by the fact that protests had recently been carried out in other NY facilities such as the Tombs and Auburn. Some of those men recently had been transferred to Attica. The men wrote letters to state officials, they organized politically, and they engaged in direct action, including carrying out a major strike in Attica's metal shop in July, 1970.

But initial concessions were often followed by more repression.

As frustrations grew, a group of prisoners calling itself the Attica Liberation Faction decided to issue a Manifesto of Demands to the Commissioner of Corrections, Russell Oswald. But he also did little to address what was clearly a growing crisis in this facility. Then, on August 21, 1971 news broke that California prison activist George Jackson had been murdered by guards in San Quentin. This, for so many at Attica, changed everything.

The next morning one could have heard a pin drop in Attica as men walked to breakfast in complete silence, sat down, and refused to eat.

Two weeks after this dramatic statement of solidarity and mourning in honor of George Jackson, on the evening of September 8, 1971 a prisoner tired of all-too-common harassment from a CO, fought back in Attica's A Yard. His unprecedented actions, as well as the fact that other men rushed in to support him and cheer him on, greatly unnerved prison officials. By night's end, one man from A Block had been locked down in his cell, two men had been hauled off to the dreaded HBZ unit (where the rest of the men in A Block feared they were being beaten, if not killed), and no one knew what repression lay in store for them, still.

September 9-12, 1971

The next morning, September 9, 1971, as the men from A Block were coming back from breakfast, these men had every reason to believe that the dreaded repression they had been fearing, was about to be meted out in particularly brutal fashion.

As was routine coming back from the mess hall every morning, the men stood in A tunnel waiting to be let out into A Yard for a short time of needed recreation before heading off to their jobs. Today, though, that door was locked. And so were the gates at either end of the tunnel. This had never happened before. Unbeknownst to them, Attica's warden had decided not to let any of the men have their few cherished hours of fresh air that day. And yet, he had failed to tell even the COs accompanying these men of this last minute penalty. And so, when the COs found the doors to A Yard locked, they also had no idea what was happening, and began panicking. The prisoners immediately saw their fear, and it literally terrified them. Certain that they were about to be set upon, beaten, and severely harmed, every man in this tunnel began backing up, desperate to flee the crowded tunnel, and sheer pandemonium ensued. In the midst of this, as men desperately began pushing and pushing at the main gate to the nerve center of the prison, Times Square, suddenly, unbelievably, it gave way. Men rushed into Times Square, grabbed the keys to unlock the other gates in order to escape that narrow space, and soon every other man who had been coming back from breakfast from every one of Attica's other housing blocks was seeking a way out of the crowded underground tunnels to safety.

Thanks to the capricious and ill-fated decision of prison officials, within mere minutes, Attica had descended into utter chaos. No one was in charge, no one was safe, no one knew what was happening, and no one knew what would happen.

The chaos was, however, short-lived. The men in Attica quickly realized the importance of standing together, and of using this moment as an opportunity to bring the public's attention to the need for meaningful change in this prison, and others.

The Attica Rebellion had begun.

The prisoners converge in Attica's D Yard, September 13, 1971.

As these nearly 1,300 Brothers made the decision to move together into Attica's D Yard, a large, open exercise field surrounded by 35-foot walls and overlooked by gun towers, they began one of the most dramatic protests for human rights in U.S. and world history. The men elected representatives to speak for each cell block. They set up a medical tent, a food distribution system, and a central negotiating table where all speeches could be broadcast on a loudspeaker and translated into Spanish for all to hear and understand them. Having taken guards hostage in the hope that state officials would then not enter the prison violently, and thus negotiate a productive and peaceful resolution to this event, Attica's men also set about making sure these guards had medical care and were protected from harm. And finally, to ensure that negotiations with state officials would proceed in good faith they called for the media and a group of outside observers to bear witness.

Negotiations began almost immediately and went on, almost around the clock, for four long days. Ultimately the men focused on 33 demands, including important remedies to Attica's inadequate medical care, slave wages, lack of religious freedom, censorship, harsh and capricious administrative segregation measures, and the broken parole system. Another critical demand, clear to everyone who had seen what had happened to the men who had dared to protest at other institutions in NY such as the Tombs or Auburn, was that the men in Attica be granted amnesty, and be guaranteed protection from all criminal and physical reprisals, once this protest was over.


Participants in the uprising, with a journalist inside the prison.

September 13, 1971

Participants in the Attica Uprising negotiate with New York State officials.

By all accounts, the negotiations were a tremendous success. The Attica Brothers' demands were reasonable and even the hostages, whom the media asked, and in the process confirmed were well cared for, were vocal in their support of state officials coming to an agreement with the men in D Yard. As documents uncovered in 2016 made clear, however, the Governor of New York, along with the members of law enforcement, had together been mobilizing to retake Attica with brutal and ugly force since day one of the uprising. As soon as they had the opportunity to do so, they did just that.

On the cold, rainy, morning of September 13, 1971, and after first dropping canisters of CN and CS gas that literally mowed the men in D Yard down as it caused them to choke and stumble blindly with tears streaming from their eyes, the State of New York then sent many hundreds of NY State Troopers, as well as corrections officers and other heavily-armed members of law enforcement, into Attica with their guns blazing. Within 15 minutes, the buckshot and bullets from their rifles, handguns, personal weapons, as well as countless state-issued weapons -- some of it intended for big game and some actually outlawed by the Geneva Convention--had felled 128 men, and had killed 39 of them. The State of New York, rather than negotiate a peaceful settlement at Attica had shot and killed scores of men -- prisoners and hostages alike.

Stunningly, state officials then stepped outside of the prison walls and told the throngs of people assembled there, including media outlets from all over the country, that something entirely different had just taken place. The prisoners, they said, had just killed, the hostages. They had not only slit their throats, but they had also brutally castrated one of them. This outright, and utterly uncorroborated lie was printed as the factual account of what had taken place at Attica on the front page of the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and most tragically, it is the story that went on the AP wire, which meant that it is the story that landed on the headlines of smaller newspapers in other cities and small towns across America.

The brutal massacre by State Troopers at Attica Prison is met with an immediate outcry from the people, who protest at the New York State Legislature in Albany that same day.


New York City, September 13, 1971


Buffalo, New York, September 13, 1971



New York City, September 18, 1971

Immediate Aftermath

This horrific lie told by the State of New York, would not only, in that moment and thereafter, turn countless Americans against the idea that prisoners should have basic rights in this country, but it would also unleash what a later judge would call "an orgy of brutality" against the wounded, terrified men inside of Attica -- men who now were at the complete mercy of troopers and corrections officers eager to make them pay for ever having dared to rebel in the first place.

In the days, weeks, and months after state officials had retaken full control of Attica, the torture of the men inside continued, a sophisticated and far-reaching cover up of the murders, woundings, and these very acts of torture, was fully in motion, myriad investigations of what had just happened at Attica were in process, and activists as well as lawyers from across the country were doing everything in their power to make sure that the men inside were getting the medical care and legal representation they desperately needed.

Although there was an official State of New York Investigation into why the Attica uprising had happened and, most pressingly to the public, why so many people had been shot, wounded, harmed, and killed, it has later become clear that this investigation was compromised from the very beginning. From the fact that the first investigators were from the ranks of the New York State Police -- the same body, and in some instances, the very same troopers -- who had shot and killed people on the day of Attica's retaking, to the fact that evidence of trooper and correction officer shootings was never collected, was "lost," was tampered with, and even burned, there was little chance that real justice would be done. Indeed, despite the fact that every single death at Attica on September 13, 1971 was at the hands of a law enforcement bullet, rather than a single trooper or CO ever standing trial, fifteen months after the massacre, the state, to disguise its villainy, charged 62 Attica Brothers, in 42 indictments, with 1,300 crimes.

Fighting the Indictments

But the history of Attica is a history of resistance, and thus, the story did not end here. Indeed, even from their cells in segregation, the indicted Attica Brothers fought their charges. From the moment the indictments were handed down, young lawyers and law students from around the country descended on upstate New York to form one of the most important grassroots legal defense efforts in American history alongside them, and community activists from around the county, and world, mobilized to support their effort as well. Thanks to this Herculean and collective effort, the Brothers ultimately prevented the State of New York from railroading them in the criminal trials. Thanks as well as to the bravery of a whistleblower inside of the Attica Investigation willing to point to the coverup at its core, in 1976, Governor Hugh Carey, was forced to vacate the remaining criminal indictments, disband the Attica grand juries, and even to grant pardons and commutations.

Holding the State Accountable

Protest in Buffalo, 1974

At that point, the State of New York would have liked nothing better than for the Attica Brothers simply to have gone away. To be sure, no trooper would ever be indicted now that the "book on Attica" would be "closed," according to Governor Carey. But since no prisoner faced indictment anymore either, he hoped, perhaps bygones could be bygones. But for the men at Attica who had experienced a trauma of the degree they had -- not just having been shot, some of them 6 and 7 times, but then stripped, assaulted, forced to run gauntlets, to endure Russian Roulette, burns, torture, and then being indicted -- to have all of that trauma denied? That was asking far too much.

In fact, the surviving Attica Brothers and next of kin of the dead had already commenced a federal civil rights class action lawsuit against Rockefeller and state prison officials back on September 13, 1974. Although they had been forced to wait to proceed with that suit until the criminal cases filed against them were resolved, proceed they eventually were determined to do. It would take a full 29 years -- decades of state attempts to silence them, hide documents, obfuscate what really had happened and who was responsible, and to protect prison and police officials from the most egregious of the actions they had carried out against fellow human beings. Eventually, however, the Attica Brothers were able to tell the court what had happened to each and every one of them at the hands of the State of New York, and the State of New York was forced to pay damages for the orgy of brutality it had unleashed against them.

Attica: The Next Chapter

Today the Attica State Correctional Facility remains open. Attica is still a maximum security prison. Attica is still a horrific and brutal place. Given the overcrowding of today's mass incarceration moment, given the increased length of sentences people now serve compared to back in 1971, and given the restrictions that have been placed on prisoners' ability to challenge the terrible conditions they endure (because of terrible pieces of legislation such as the Prison Litigation Reform Act), some would even say that conditions are worse there now than they were back in 1971.

Either way, Attica is a trauma site. Attica is a site of torture. Attica is no place for human beings now, any more than it was in 1971.

And, so, today, 50 years after the uprising at Attica we call for the immediate closing of this institution.

ATTICA MEANS FIGHT BACK!

(Photos and illustrations: Prisoners Solidarity Committee, Attica News, Project NIA, Committee to Free Dacajeweiah, J. Stanthorp, New York City Archives.)

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Dacajeweiah: Childhood and Youth

Excerpt from John Steinbach's hommage to Dacajeweiah at a memorial service held in Chase, BC in March 2013.

When Dac was just 7, living in Buffalo, NY, his father Savario Boncore, a painter for U.S. Rubber, was forced along with 10 co-workers to enter and spray paint, without respirators or other protections, a large storage tank. All 11 men perished, leaving Dac and his three sisters fatherless, and his mother destitute. Dac and his sisters were forcibly removed from their mother's care, and institutionalized in orphanages, group homes and foster homes. According to Dac, he refused to submit to this oppressive and degrading environment and soon was branded "incorrigible" by the authorities.

At age 17 and freshly freed from reform school, Dac found himself homeless and sleeping on the street with the cruel Buffalo winter fast approaching. Desperate with cold and hunger, he decided to rob a store. Of course, he was quickly apprehended by the store-owners who fed him a sandwich while waiting for the police. Despite it having been his first felony conviction, Dac was sentenced to four years in prison for attempted robbery.

Two hard years at Elmira State Reformatory made Dac determined to resist the brutal, racist New York prison system. It was at Elmira that Dac first became acquainted with activists in the Anti-War, Native American, Black Liberation and Puerto Rican Independence movements, and began to develop the political consciousness which informed his activism over the next 30 years. Dac recalls, "We began to realize that we were victims of a system that didn't meet our needs and so we started entertaining a lot of ideas about revolutionary resistance in order to overthrow this ruthless system." At 19, just months from his scheduled parole and in order to be released nearer to his home, Dac made the fateful decision to request transfer to the notorious U.S. Gulag called Attica Prison.

Attica

Attica was notorious even among the brutal, degrading system of state prisons of the 1970s. The prison itself was grotesquely overcrowded and prisoners were forced to subsist on a mere 62 cents per day. Despite the fact that a large majority of prisoners were people of color, the prison staff were entirely white and often openly racist. It was reported that the warden himself was an active leader in the local Ku Klux Klan. Assaults and murders of prisoners were a common occurrence. Although just 19 as he entered Attica, Dac, hardened by two years at Elmira, was determined to remain unintimidated. Little did he know that just 17 days later Attica would become a literal hell on Earth.

George Jackson was a hero to many revolutionaries, including Dacajeweiah. A prisoner at San Quentin in California, he had written two important radical books, and was considered a major spokesperson for Black Liberation and prisoners rights. When George Jackson was set up and assassinated by the authorities at San Quentin, the shock waves spread throughout the U.S. prison system. At Attica, the 1,200 inmates went on a solidarity hunger strike which both infuriated and frightened the guards.

The following day, in an attempt to create dissension among the prisoners, the guards tried to provoke a race riot by pitting a black against a white prisoner. When the white prisoner protested in defence of his black brother, both were ordered into the hole. The stage was set for rebellion.

Dac recalls walking down the hall with Sam Melville, a leader of the Weather Underground, when they encountered the guard captain. Sam and a Black leader confronted the captain about why the others were locked up. When the captain made excuses, he was knocked down and Dac bellowed, "Let's take the place! This is it! Let's riot!" Suddenly all 1,200 men started rioting and shortly controlled the prison. One of the guards, William Quinn was accidentally injured during the initial insurrection and died several days later. His unfortunate death was later to play an important part of Dac's story.

The rebellion lasted five days and from the beginning the 1,200 inmates organized themselves into committees and showed the world the true face of democracy. According to Dac, "For the very first time, people around the world were starting to finally hear about what was really going on within America's penal system." The 50 prison guard hostages were dressed in prisoners garb and used in negotiations. The State agreed to 28 demands, but refused the most critical & non-negotiable one; blanket amnesty for all involved. There was a standoff and although negotiations were ongoing and all the hostages unharmed, Governor Nelson Rockefeller gave the word to storm Attica.

When the decision came down, over 1,000 heavily armed state troopers were diverted from an impending attack on Mohawk Indians on Onandaga Territory, who were attempting to block an extension of Highway 81 through Sacred Indian land. (Some Mohawk warriors later reported to Dacajeweiah that during the Attica massacre the drums hanging on the Longhouse wall started drumming an Honor Song with no one playing them). It had been raining that day, and Dac describes waves of red raincoated state police coming in from above, as a helicopter hovered over the courtyard demanding that the hostages be released.

Suddenly the helicopter released several CN4 poison gas canisters, outlawed by the Geneva Convention, and, simultaneously, the attacking police opened fire. As many as 15,000 rounds of live ammunition were fired that day, and when the smoke cleared 43 were dead, 11 guards and 32 prisoners, all killed by police fire; over eighty were wounded. Dac describes prisoners begging for their lives as they were shot in cold blood. He talks about prisoners being forced into latrine trenches filled with urine and feces, being marked with an X and then shot in the back. Dac himself was grazed by three bullets and would have been killed except for a gun misfire. When all is said and done, Attica was a criminal massacre, but Dacajeweiah was the only person ever convicted and punished.

A year and a half after Attica, Dacajeweiah was convicted of the murder of guard Quinn, and sentenced to 20 years to life. (He would have received the death penalty except for the fact that the Supreme Court had just declared capital punishment illegal.) While out on bond prior to his conviction, Dac, for the first time, became involved in the organized movement. He traveled to Genienkeh, a Mohawk survival camp, where he became a member of the Mohawk Warrior Society. In his book, Dac tells a story about how the Mohawk Warriors, dressed in white sheets for snow camouflage, got the drop on several hundred state troopers and forced them to withdraw. It was at Genienkeh that Dac met his first wife Alicia, the mother of his sons John and Nicosa. Ultimately, Dacajeweiah spent five long years in prison for the murder of Quinn.

Actions to free political prisoners from the Attica Uprising and other struggles, in Buffalo, NY (1974) and New York City (1977).

For a copy of Dacajeweiah's autobiography, send check or money order for $40 (includes GST, shipping and handling) to:
National Publications Centre, P.O. Box 264, Adelaide Station, Toronto ON M5C 2J8.

In all, 61 men were indicted for the Attica uprising. Rockefeller became Vice President of the U.S. and Hugh Carey became Governor of New York. As time passed, it became more and more difficult to ignore the atrocities committed at Attica and the political heat became unbearable. Nelson Rockefeller was facing confirmation hearings for Vice-President, but the Attica massacre stood as a major blemish on his political record. Rockefeller would order Anthony B. Simonetti, head of the New York Bureau of Criminal Investigation, to cover up the murders by state police at Attica, then under investigation by a second Grand Jury. One of the massacre investigators, Malcom Bell who later wrote the best-selling Attica expose Turkey Shoot, refused to be a part of this blatant jury tampering and ultimately blew the whistle to the New York Times. The Times sat on Bell's article for a full two months, until after Dacajeweiah's conviction. When the story finally broke, it created a major scandal. In an effort to put a lid on this embarrassing and politically devastating fiasco, Governor Hugh Carey ordered that all charges rising out of Attica, including probable charges against the police, were to be dropped. Dacajeweiah was the only one left imprisoned.

Former Attorney General Ramsey Clark replaced William Kunstler as Dacajeweiah's attorney and approached Carey, pointing out the injustice of Dac's continued incarceration. Carey ordered Dac's release, but not before the prison authorities and state police made several attempts on his life. Dac describes several assassination attempts, including being driven to a parole hearing by detectives over back roads at speeds of over 100 mph while pursuing cops peppered them with bullets. When Dac appeared before the Parole Board, and for the first time in New York history, the Board overruled a Governor's clemency decision and ordered him held for two more years. Sixteen prisons later, including a stint at Sing Sing prison, and after a brief reincarceration for an alleged parole violation, Dac was finally freed for good in 1979.

(In Loving Memory of John Boncore Hill "Splitting the Sky" Dacajeweiah (Dac) by John Steinbach, Memorial Service, March 23, 2013. Phtotos: LNS, Committee to Free Dacajeweiah, J. Stanthorp.)

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