Forty years ago this week, about 1,000 NY State troopers – under the direction of then Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller – stormed the Attica prison upstate and shot 39 people to death, 29 inmates and 10 guards. Firing at will, the troopers were ordered to quell an uprising after prisoners staged a four-day protest against overcrowding, inadequate medical care, terrible living conditions and more. In newly released recordings between Rockefeller and President Nixon, the brutality of the troopers’ response, the indiscriminate manner in which they killed people and the lack of negotiations prior to the shooting, all point towards one thing: race. Forty years later, the disregard for Black life is as prevalent as the days of the Attica uprising, for we are still seen as less than human.
‘Tell me, are these primarily Blacks that you’re dealing with?” asked Nixon in these tapes according to the NY Times. “Oh yes, the whole thing was lead by the Blacks,” was Rockefeller’s reply.
The Blacks’ were Attica’s prison inmates, while security guards at the institution were all white. Even though Nixon knew this conversation was being recorded (Rockefeller didn’t), he urged the governor to stand firm and not give in to any of the prisoners’ demands. Without any attempt at negotiating, intervening, looking into the inmates’ concerns or even visiting the prison, Rockefeller responded with a rash of violence that cost the lives of 10 of their own. And at first, he and other governmental entities tried to pin the deaths of these guards on the inmates themselves, until evidence later proved that the troopers were to blame. Today, when many elected officials continue to see us as ‘the Blacks’ the outrageous epidemic of violence remains unaddressed and unresolved.
As a vocal advocate against the inexcusable rise in gun usage and violence within Black and Latino neighborhoods, I was livid after nearly 100 people were shot in one weekend here in NY. And because we are losing our young left and right to this sort of senseless killing all across the country, the National Action Network works daily to address the root causes of the problem and calls on everyone to hold themselves accountable. But while taking personal responsibility and saving ourselves is integral, we cannot eradicate the problem entirely without greater assistance from those in office. If white kids or suburban kids were dropping in such high numbers, would our elected officials be so silent? If 18-year-old Tayshana Murphy (ranked on an ESPN website as the nation’s 16th best basketball point guard in her class) who was tragically shot in the head by thugs were white, would the search for her murderers make daily national news as we have seen in the cases of many other missing or killed women? And if wealthy constituents started to see their daughters and sons murdered on a continual basis, do you really think such little action would be taken to address the problem?
We sent a notice to Gov. Cuomo here in New York urging him to work with grassroots organizations to seek solutions to this dire calamity – and we finally received some word. Although his office has responded, there is still not enough rapid action taking place to resolve the state of emergency we are in. Forty years ago, Black life was often seen as inferior and therefore our issues were completely ignored. Sadly today, young Black life in particular is still viewed in the same manner and as a result, our representatives don’t care what happens to ‘the Blacks.’ But if we have any hope for the next generation, it’s time to force them to pay attention; no more silence.