Heather Thompson, Professor of Afroamerican and African Studies and History, Featured in The Buffalo News
The 48th anniversary of the 1971 Attica prison uprising, which occurred during Sept. 9-13, 1971, is one more reminder of the tragic consequences of New York State’s poorly conceived and disastrously executed retaking of the Attica Correctional Facility ordered by Gov. Nelson Rockefeller.
It is one more reminder of the killing by police bullets of 10 correction officers and prison staff, 29 prisoners, and the wounding of 89 others. It is one more reminder of the brutality and massive civil rights violations inflicted upon the surviving prisoners after the shooting stopped.
And, finally, it is one more reminder that much of the evidence of what happened that day remains sealed in grand jury transcripts and documents.
On Sept. 15, 1971, Rockefeller announced the appointment of a deputy attorney general to direct investigatory efforts into “alleged criminal acts committed in connection with the five-day uprising at Attica.” Every death and every wounding and every violent act were, potentially, the subject of the investigation. In the course of the investigation, a grand jury returned 42 indictments charging 62 prisoners. No indictments were returned against law enforcement personnel. A subsequent grand jury indicted one state trooper on a felony charge of reckless endangerment.
Toward the end of this one-sided investigation, one of the lawyers on the attorney general’s prosecutorial staff, Malcolm Bell, criticized the failure to investigate and prosecute crimes allegedly committed by the State Police and other law enforcement personnel.