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Riot at Attica prison

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Prisoners riot and seize control of the maximum-security Attica Correctional Facility near Buffalo, New York. Later that day, state police retook most of the prison, but 1,281 convicts occupied an exercise field called D Yard, where they held 39 prison guards and employees hostage for four days. After negotiations stalled, state police and prison officers launched a disastrous raid on September 13, in which 10 hostages and 29 inmates were killed in an indiscriminate hail of gunfire. Eighty-nine others were seriously injured.

By the summer of 1971, the state prison in Attica, New York, was ready to explode. Inmates were frustrated with chronic overcrowding, censorship of letters, and living conditions that limited them to one shower per week and one roll of toilet paper each month. Some Attica prisoners, adopting the radical spirit of the times, began to perceive themselves as political prisoners rather than convicted criminals.

On the morning of September 9, the eruption came when inmates on the way to breakfast overpowered their guards and stormed down a prison gallery in a spontaneous riot. They broke through a faulty gate and into a central area known as Times Square, which gave them access to all the cellblocks. Many of the prison’s 2,200 inmates then joined in the rioting, and prisoners rampaged through the facility beating guards, acquiring makeshift weapons, and burning down the prison chapel. One guard, William Quinn, was severely beaten and thrown out a second-story window. Two days later, he died in a hospital from his injuries.

Using tear gas and submachine guns, state police regained control of three of the four cellblocks held by the rioters without loss of life. By 10:30 a.m., the inmates were only in control of D Yard, a large, open exercise field surrounded by 35-foot walls and overlooked by gun towers. Thirty-nine hostages, mostly guards and a few other prison employees, were blindfolded and held in a tight circle. Inmates armed with clubs and knives guarded the hostages closely.

Riot leaders put together a list of demands, including improved living conditions, more religious freedom, an end to mail censorship, and expanded phone privileges. They also called for specific individuals, such as U.S. Representative Herman Badillo and New York Times columnist Tom Wicker, to serve as negotiators and civilian observers. Meanwhile, hundreds of state troopers arrived at Attica, and New York Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller called in the National Guard.

In tense negotiations, New York Correction Commissioner Russell Oswald agreed to honor the inmates’ demands for improved living conditions. However, talks bogged down when the prisoners called for amnesty for everyone in D Yard, along with safe passage to a “non-imperialist country” for anyone who desired it. Observers pleaded with Governor Rockefeller to come to Attica as a show of good faith, but he refused and instead ordered the prison to be retaken by force.

On the rainy Monday morning of September 13, an ultimatum was read to the inmates, calling on them to surrender. They responded by putting knives against the hostages’ throats. At 9:46 a.m., helicopters flew over the yard, dropping tear gas as state police and correction officers stormed in with guns blazing. The police fired 3,000 rounds into the tear gas haze, killing 29 inmates and 10 of the hostages and wounding 89. Most were shot in the initial indiscriminate barrage of gunfire, but other prisoners were shot or killed after they surrendered. An emergency medical technician recalled seeing a wounded prisoner, lying on the ground, shot several times in the head by a state trooper. Another prisoner was shot seven times and then ordered to crawl along the ground. When he didn’t move fast enough, an officer kicked him. Many others were savagely beaten.

In the aftermath of the bloody raid, authorities said the inmates had killed the slain hostages by slitting their throats. One hostage was said to have been castrated. However, autopsies showed that these charges were false and that all 10 hostages had been shot to death by police. The attempted cover-up increased public condemnation of the raid and prompted a Congressional investigation.

The Attica riot was the worst prison riot in U.S. history. A total of 43 people were killed, including the 39 killed in the raid, guard William Quinn, and three inmates killed by other prisoners early in the riot. In the week after its conclusion, police engaged in brutal reprisals against the prisoners, forcing them to run a gauntlet of nightsticks and crawl naked across broken glass, among other tortures. The many injured inmates received substandard medical treatment, if any.

In 1974, lawyers representing the 1,281 inmates filed a $2.8 billion class-action lawsuit against prison and state officials. It took 18 years before the suit came to trial, and five more years to reach the damages phase, delays that were the fault of a lower-court judge opposed to the case. In January 2000, New York State and the former and current inmates settled for $8 million, which was divided unevenly among about 500 inmates, depending on the severity of their suffering during the raid and the weeks following.

Families of the slain correction officers lost their right to sue by accepting the modest death-benefit checks sent to them by the state. The hostages who survived likewise lost their right to sue by cashing their paychecks. Both groups attest that no state officials apprised them of their legal rights, and they were denied compensation that New York should have paid to them.

– History.com Staff

This Day In History

Truman announces development of H-bomb

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U.S. President Harry S. Truman publicly announces his decision to support the development of the hydrogen bomb, a weapon theorized to be hundreds of times more powerful than the atomic bombs dropped on Japan during World War II.

Five months earlier, the United States had lost its nuclear supremacy when the Soviet Union successfully detonated an atomic bomb at their test site in Kazakhstan. Then, several weeks after that, British and U.S. intelligence came to the staggering conclusion that German-born Klaus Fuchs, a top-ranking scientist in the U.S. nuclear program, was a spy for the Soviet Union. These two events, and the fact that the Soviets now knew everything that the Americans did about how to build a hydrogen bomb, led Truman to approve massive funding for the superpower race to complete the world’s first “superbomb,” as he described it in his public announcement on January 31.

On November 1, 1952, the United States successfully detonated “Mike,” the world’s first hydrogen bomb, on the Eniwetok Atoll in the Pacific Marshall Islands. The 10.4-megaton thermonuclear device, built upon the Teller-Ulam principles of staged radiation implosion, instantly vaporized an entire island and left behind a crater more than a mile wide. The incredible explosive force of Mike was also apparent from the sheer magnitude of its mushroom cloud–within 90 seconds the mushroom cloud climbed to 57,000 feet and entered the stratosphere. One minute later, it reached 108,000 feet, eventually stabilizing at a ceiling of 120,000 feet. Half an hour after the test, the mushroom stretched 60 miles across, with the base of the head joining the stem at 45,000 feet.

Three years later, on November 22, 1955, the Soviet Union detonated its first hydrogen bomb on the same principle of radiation implosion. Both superpowers were now in possession of the “hell bomb,” as it was known by many Americans, and the world lived under the threat of thermonuclear war for the first time in history.

Source: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/truman-announces-development-of-h-bomb

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This Day In History

Gandhi assassinated

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Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the political and spiritual leader of the Indian independence movement, is assassinated in New Delhi by a Hindu extremist.

Born the son of an Indian official in 1869, Gandhi’s Vaishnava mother was deeply religious and early on exposed her son to Jainism, a morally rigorous Indian religion that advocated nonviolence. Gandhi was an unremarkable student but in 1888 was given an opportunity to study law in England. In 1891, he returned to India, but failing to find regular legal work he accepted in 1893 a one-year contract in South Africa.

Settling in Natal, he was subjected to racism and South African laws that restricted the rights of Indian laborers. Gandhi later recalled one such incident, in which he was removed from a first-class railway compartment and thrown off a train, as his moment of truth. From thereon, he decided to fight injustice and defend his rights as an Indian and a man. When his contract expired, he spontaneously decided to remain in South Africa and launched a campaign against legislation that would deprive Indians of the right to vote. He formed the Natal Indian Congress and drew international attention to the plight of Indians in South Africa. In 1906, the Transvaal government sought to further restrict the rights of Indians, and Gandhi organized his first campaign of satyagraha, or mass civil disobedience. After seven years of protest, he negotiated a compromise agreement with the South African government.

In 1914, Gandhi returned to India and lived a life of abstinence and spirituality on the periphery of Indian politics. He supported Britain in the First World War but in 1919 launched a new satyagraha in protest of Britain’s mandatory military draft of Indians. Hundreds of thousands answered his call to protest, and by 1920 he was leader of the Indian movement for independence. He reorganized the Indian National Congress as a political force and launched a massive boycott of British goods, services, and institutions in India. Then, in 1922, he abruptly called off the satyagraha when violence erupted. One month later, he was arrested by the British authorities for sedition, found guilty, and imprisoned.

Source: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/gandhi-assassinated

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U.S. Baseball Hall of Fame elects first members

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On January 29, 1936, the U.S. Baseball Hall of Fame elects its first members in Cooperstown, New York: Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Christy Matthewson and Walter Johnson.

The Hall of Fame actually had its beginnings in 1935, when plans were made to build a museum devoted to baseball and its 100-year history. A private organization based in Cooperstown called the Clark Foundation thought that establishing the Baseball Hall of Fame in their city would help to reinvigorate the area’s Depression-ravaged economy by attracting tourists. To help sell the idea, the foundation advanced the idea that U.S. Civil War hero Abner Doubleday invented baseball in Cooperstown. The story proved to be phony, but baseball officials, eager to capitalize on the marketing and publicity potential of a museum to honor the game’s greats, gave their support to the project anyway.

In preparation for the dedication of the Hall of Fame in 1939—thought by many to be the centennial of baseball—the Baseball Writers’ Association of America chose the five greatest superstars of the game as the first class to be inducted: Ty Cobb was the most productive hitter in history; Babe Ruth was both an ace pitcher and the greatest home-run hitter to play the game; Honus Wagner was a versatile star shortstop and batting champion; Christy Matthewson had more wins than any pitcher in National League history; and Walter Johnson was considered one of the most powerful pitchers to ever have taken the mound.

Today, with approximately 350,000 visitors per year, the Hall of Fame continues to be the hub of all things baseball. 

Source: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/u-s-baseball-hall-of-fame-elects-first-members

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