The name, Attica, has entered the lexicon of American culture, driven, in part, by the cinema performance in “Dog Day Afternoon”, when actor Al Pacino raised his fist and exclaimed, “Attica! Attica!”
Viewers immediately got the reference, for on Sept. 9, 1971 – Attica – a reference to the state prison in upstate New York – was the biggest story in the country.
There, prisoners rebelled, took hostages, and demanded to be treated as men, and the State, under orders of then-Governor Nelson Rockefeller, unleashed a hail of bullets that killed dozens of men – prisoners and prison guards alike – and then lied about it.
Attica, politicians and prison reformers assured us, would be the harbinger of change.
Never again, they said.
This September marks 41 years since that day of carnage and mass death – and things have changed – but not for the better.
According to a recent bulletin published by the NY state prison monitoring group, The Correctional Association, Attica remains a place of violence, fear, sexual and racist abuse and disrespect.
As in 1971, the staff is overwhelmingly white and rural, and prisoners are overwhelmingly Black, Latino and urban.
As in 1971, the joint is thick with tension.
As in 1971, the disrespect and maltreatment rolls down the hallways like dry tumbleweeds, waiting to ignite.
The Correctional Association has called for Attica to be shut down, as it remains a grim symbol of expensive, brutal failure.
If it does, it’ll be 41 years too late.