It was 40 years ago this week when New York state police raided the prison in Attica, New York, ending a prison uprising to protest inhumane conditions at the facility. On Sept. 13, 1971, then-New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller ordered armed state troopers to raid the prison. Troopers then shot indiscriminately some 2,000 rounds of ammunition. In the end, 39 men would die: 29 prisoners and 10 guards. After the shooting stopped, police beat and tortured scores of more prisoners.
Newly uncovered audio recordings reveal that President Richard Nixon enthusiastically supported the violent operation when he spoke by phone with Rockefeller on the day of the raid.
Rockefeller confides in Nixon that before the raid, he thought it was possible that as many as 300 prisoners could be killed, but went ahead with the operation anyway. Throughout the tapes, Nixon discusses the racial component of the uprising, describing the prison rebellion as “basically a black thing.”
Nixon would go on to erroneously state that all of the victims of crackdown were African American, downplaying the multiracial leadership within Attica at the time of the uprising. We speak to University of New Hampshire at Manchester historian Theresa Lynch, who helped disclose the tapes.