[Please note: The following mainstream article may contain distorted or inaccurate information and may be missing important facts and/or context. It is provided for reference purposes only - S.I.S.I.S.]
Vancouver - A BC man who was a key figure in the 1995 armed stand-off at Gustafsen Lake is now at the centre of a scandal involving a candidate in New York City's upcoming mayoral campaign when Mayor Rudolph Giuliani accused his democratic party rival Ruth Messinger of hosting a party for the man at her home in 1979.
The party was to celebrate Hill's release from prison, where he served a sentence for killing a guard during a 1971 convict uprising. Hill now lives in Surrey and goes by the name Splitting-the-Sky. "It's ridiculous," Hill said Tuesday during an interview that was interrupted several times by phone calls from New York newspaper reporters. "It's just a pure smear campaign. It's sleazy, filthy politics."
Although Hill told a New York newspaper earlier this week that Messinger was at the party,"then I thought about it again and then it hit me that it wasn't her that hosted the party, it was a roommate," he said. The issue arose Monday when two top contenders for mayor launched character attacks on each other. Giuliani, the Republican incumbent, accused Messinger of holding a party for a killer, and Messinger countered that Giuliani dodged the Vietnam draft in 1969.
Messinger said she did not recall the party, but the soiree in her house was the subject of an April 23,1979 column in The New York Times, which described the event as a celebration of Hill's release. A U.S. Mohawk Indian, Hill was at the Gustafsen Lake encampment, training occupants in guerrilla warfare, police say. He left in mid-August and was not among those charged in connection with the stand-off. But he became their most vocal supporter, appearing frequently at rallies, fund raising for their defence and distributing press releases on the letter head of the "Ts'peten Defence Committee" denouncing police and government tactics.
When the RCMP released the names and criminal records of those involved in the Gustafsen stand-off, they said Hill had convictions for petty larceny, attempted murder, second-degree assault, supplying contraband to a prisoner and possession of a dangerous weapon. Hill was serving time in New York's Attica prison in 1971 when a bloody uprising occurred over living conditions and he allegedly killed a guard with a two-by-four. He was sentenced to 20 years to life but his case was championed by some politicians and activists, who argued he was unfairly singled out as a scapegoat.
The state eventually exonerated Attica inmates and guards from criminal prosecution for their role in the uprising, but prison guards resisted attempts to commute Hill's sentence. He was paroled in 1979. "After I was on parole for six years, my parole officer in Washington, D.C. said I was such an exemplary parolee that I fulfilled all of the obligations of parole, and had done so much good work in the community... and subsequently I was taken off parole."
The leaders of New York's two prison guard unions, which support Giuliani, called the party at Messinger's house proof she is unfit to hold public office. "Obviously she doesn't care about corrections professionals," said Peter Meringolo, president of the 1,000 member Corrections Captains Association. But Hill said with more pressing issues such as unemployment and homelessness to deal with, "Giuliani's got a lot of nerve" trying to discredit his challenger in the November election bringing up an event almost two decades old.
"It's just as ridiculous as the contrived misinformation campaign that [police] manufactured during the RCMP standoff up at Gustafsen Lake," Hill said. "It's no different." Thirteen Indians and non-Indian supporters were sentenced in July to terms of up to four and a half years in prison for their role in the two-month standoff, when RCMP and protesters exchanged gunfire until the dispute over Indian land rights ended peacefully.
The Attica prison rebellion in September 1971 was one of the seminal political events of the early 1970s. The shooting down of defenseless prisoners, and their guard-hostages, shocked anyone with a political consciousness or humanitarian sensibility. The uprising took place shortly after the killing of George Jackson in California, and in the context of riots, strikes and massive resistance from prisoners around the country. The incredible sacrifice of the Attica prisoners helped to initiate a wave of reforms resulted in better prison conditions and changed attitudes to prisons across the country. It is these reforms, won with much suffering, that are being reversed in today's reactionary climate.
Prisoners seized control of Attica on September 9, 1971 in response to the horrific conditions which they had to endure. There was massive overcrowding. Racism and guard brutality were rampant. Rehabilitation programs were virtually non-existent. Food was of poor quality and the heavy reliance on pork made it offensive, and inedible to the Muslims. Prison work paid poorly, and many prisoners were unemployed. Medical care was virtually unavailable.
In what would become the greatest prison rebellion in the history of the U.S. the prisoners held the yard until September 13. During these four days the prisoners constructed a model society, protected their hostages, and tried to negotiate with prison officials in front of the eyes of the watching world. During these four days many observers were allowed into the prison, as was a film crew which took the footage of the unfolding rebellion which would later become the movie Attica.
The prisoners proclaimed: "WE are MEN! We are not beasts and do not intend to be beaten or driven as such. The entire prison populace has set forth to change forever the ruthless brutalization and disregard for the lives of the prisoners here and throughout the United States. What has happened here is but the sound before the fury of those who are oppressed."
On September 13th, Governor Nelson Rockefeller ordered a force of 150 heavily armed New York state troopers, prison guards and police to launch an armed attack against the prisoners, who still held 39 guards hostage. 29 prisoners and ten guards died. In addition, 85 prisoners and 3 hostages were injured.
After the shooting stopped, the brutality directed against the prisoners was intense and systematic. It was overseen by some of the top prison officials, including Russell Oswald, the Commissioner of Prisons for the state. Prisoners were forced to strip naked and crawl through mud and broken glass. Selected prisoners were forced to run a gauntlet of club-wielding guards. Wounded prisoners were beaten as they lay on stretchers scattered around the prison. Dacajewiah was smashed in the head with a rifle butt and thrown off a 40-foot catwalk, miraculously surviving. Ambulances were waiting to take away the guard-hostages, but none were available for the wounded prisoners for 7 hours. In fact, no preparations at all had been made for medical care for (expected) prisoner-casualties: no blood, no plasma, no medical supplies.
Dacajewiah was singled out and charged for the death of the one guard who had died at the beginning of the uprising. He was convicted of murder in April of 1975 and sentenced to 20 years to life. A little later, a national scandal broke out when it was reported by Malcolm Bell, a New York Times reporter, that governor Rockefeller ordered his head of criminal investigations to suppress all evidence of the events at Attica which were to be presented before the second grand jury slated to investigate the extra-judicial tortures and murders that occurred after the initial massacre.
Shortly after this, a commission ordered the book on Attica closed, enacted the dismissal of all pending charges against any prisoners charged in connection to the rebellion, a blanket amnesty against all the state troopers responsible for carrying out the massacre, and the granting of executive clemency for Dacajewiah. But the state continued Dacajewiah's incarceration in spite of the commutation of his sentence. This led to a major campaign to free him. The campaign was supported by liberals, progressives and radicals across the U.S. It became one of the major political drives of the late 1970s. Dacajewiah spent three more years in prison before his 1979 release, when he made it on Andrew Young's list of U.S. political prisoners under the Carter Adminstration.
- Compiled from Prison News Service archives
distributed in ANTIFA Info-Bulletin #136
Arm the Spirit
Twenty-five years ago, Sept, 14 1971, the bloodiest prison rebellion in U.S. history took place. Four days earlier prisoners had taken over Attica and demanded more humane treatment and better prison conditions. Now, realizing that an assault to retake was imminent, the prisoners marched their 9 guard-hostages to the top of the prison walls and held a knife to each guard's throat. Sharpshooters zeroed their rifles scopes between each prisoner's eyes, and opened fire.
Forty people, 31 prisoners and 9 guards, died during the retaking of Attica. Forty-three died in total. Immediately after the assault, State officials flooded the media with lurid accounts of prisoners cold-bloodedly slitting guards' throats in the midst of the sharpshooter's barrage.
It was all a "Big Lie." About a week later the coroner announced that all guards and prisoners killed during the retaking of the prison had been killed by state troopers' bullets. A 10th guard died probably at the hands of other prisoners.
The Attica rebellion occured during the era of the nationwide prison reform movement. It was part of the cost that prisoners, their families and supporters, paid to roll back the inhumane prison policies that had stood for centuries. Prison struggles during that period, led mainly by politically conscious prisoners, gained the rudimentary privileges of contact visits, adequate law libraries, the right to a disciplinary hearing before punishment, college courses; Black, Hispanic and Native American Studies, religions and cultural programs with participation by outside community representatives, more humane treatment and numerous other privileges that are taken for granted today.
Now, many of these same privileges are being taken away. Prisoners everywhere are being harshly repressed. Control units and control complexes abound, mass arrest, mass imprisonment, building more and harsher prisons, the death penalty, more police, more guards, and the "lock em up and throw away the key "mentality, is the order of the day. Prison guard's unions have grown as powerful s the policemen's PBA in bankrolling law-and-order politicians to pass more repressive crime legislation. Nothing is too cruel to be done to prisoners today, particularly since most prisoners are Black, and Brown, or other people of color.
The "Big Lie" reigns supreme. Nobody wants to hear about Reagan's use of the CIA flood the ghettoes, barrios, and reservations, with cocaine to create the "crack"/crime epidemic in the first place -- in order to fund the Contra War. Nor does anyone want to hear about Clinton's passage of NAFTA an other corporate legislative schemes that send U.S. jobs overseas to be done at cheap wages, creating massive underemployment here. And definitely no one wants to hear of the current rush by transnational corporations to make even bigger profits by opening factories in U.S. prisons to replace overseas labor.
Prison slave labor is even cheaper than overseas workers, plus there's no overseas shipping costs, no health insurance, unemployment or retirement costs, and most of all, prisoner's can't strike. Everyone is profiting off the law-and-order "Big Lie" that scapegoats prisoners and people of color in general. Everyone, that is, except the underemployed U.S. worker who must now work two jobs to make ends meet and is expected to cheer because the stock market goes thru the roof, as the transnational corporations laugh all the way to the bank.
If Attica represents a high point of the unity and consciousness of the prison struggle movement, then today represents a low point in prison conditions, consciousness, solidarity, and struggle. The real lesson of Attica is that it serves as a beacon to remind us of where we were, and how we got there.
Today's prisons are filled with mostly younger, less politically aware, but rebellious prisoners who were swept up during the Big Lie "War on Drugs," actually it was, and is, a War on people of color. We changed the prisons before and we can again, even further this time. To do so it's necessary to politically educate and activate a whole new generation of prisoners, and community and legal supporters. Building a National Prison Organization (NPO) is as good a place to start as any.
Sundiata Acoli (Squire)
White Deer, PA 17887
For more information on the struggle to free Sundiata Acoli, please contact:
Sundiata Acoli Freedom Campaign