The primary demand the prisoners had for the riot to end was prison reform. Living in Attica was a hopeless situation, and no doubt, the abuses in prison were racially motivated. It’s didn’t help that 100% of the officers were white. They demanded that prisoners in Attica be treated with dignity and best put by the rallying cry of Charles Horatio Crowley, “If we cannot live as people, then we will at least try to die like men.” As much as the country demands law and order, we forget that these gentlemen are human beings even as prisoners.
One historical story element that goes untold was the account of the four days of negotiation between the inmates and the prison officials. Along with prison reform, the inmates wanted amnesty for the riots—that no one was to be charged or punished for the prison takeover. For five days, the inmates remained peaceful. The authorities acquiesced to their request by bringing notable civil rights advocates, including the previously mentioned Clarence Jones and Chicago Seven lawyer William Kunstler. The effort put into ending the riot peacefully ended when the guard beaten at the start of the riot died from the beating and effectively pulling amnesty off the table.
“One historical story element that goes untold was the account of the four days of negotiation…”
The description of the actual re-claiming of the prison by the corrections officers and the national guard is told in horrifying detail, and the torture and punishment of the surviving prisoner are much worse. I dare you to watch it today and not get angry about the racial divide that existed in the 70s—this racism that was allowed to exist and go unchallenged.
Bold statement of the day! I think Attica was meant to be a straightforward retelling of the Attica prison riots and presented as such. Many of the prison staff families talk about the fear they felt for their loved one, and many of these stories are sympathetic to their spouses and children. That said, Attica becomes a highly charged political and civil rights documentary because it simply presents the fact—and the conclusions drawn from those facts are undeniable. Today, the memory of Attica is a chant made famous in Dog Day Afternoon, but what it should be is a reminder of a time not so long ago that we should never return to as a country.
Attica screened at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival.
"…if we cannot live as people, then we will at least try to die like men."