Attica, USA 1971: Images and Sounds of a Rebellion

This weekend I took a trip to the Ryerson Image Centre in downtown Toronto. I saw an ad in the paper about this photo gallery and I told my friend @ryhanks that we should check this out because that’s right up our alley being into Photography and African-American history. The problem with the society that we live in, is there are so many distractions so I forgot about the exhibit until I was deleting some photos from my phone and I saw a picture of the flyer that I took while I was on the TTC and I saw that the last day was April 9th.

I took the subway to Dundas station and walked over to the Ryerson Image Centre. It was my first time there and it was a nice clean building with all the amenities. I first saw a video board and a short film by a former Black Panter. It was mind blowing that you can still see the bullet holes in a house from a shootout that took place in 1968.

Although I am a photographer, for some reason I find it strange to take photos of photos or art so I left my camera at home and just used my phone. They had a guided tour of the exhibit but you were also free to walk around as you pleased so, I did a quick lap before the tour started. There were a lot of powerful images and some were definitely not for the faint of heart.

The Attica rebellion took place before I was born and I heard of it but I didn’t know very much about it. When I listened to the tour guide speak about it, I was in disbelief of the living conditions that the inmates went through. 63 cents for food a DAY, 1 bar of soap and one roll of toilet paper per MONTH. The Latino inmates that received letters from their friends and families automatically got thrown out if it was written in Spanish since none of the correction officers read Spanish and all correspondence were read before reaching the intended receiver. The prison was predominantly black and latino.

43 men lost their lives during that period in September 1971 and they were killed by the authorities. Litigation carried on until 2015 and the State Government paid $8,000,000 to the families of the victims of the slain prisoners and $12 Million to the families victims of the prison employees. But I think most importantly, never admitted any wrongdoing for the incident in the first place.

As a black man and watching the world that I currently live in, this situation was eerily similar to what I see going on today with Police brutality and the American prison industrial complex. Just when things start to move in the right direction, a powerful corporation or lobbyist group tries to pull the world backwards and tries to convince us as the human race that everything is fine how it is. And because most of the protesters do not have the ability to sway the politicians and the politicians are afraid to go against the lobbyists, we get thrown into this ugly cycle of hate and injustice. I think the biggest difference between 1971 and 2017 is that middle-class whites now see what’s happening with visible minorities and a lot of them don’t agree with the injustices with drug laws, police killings are now on camera, the Dakota Access Pipeline affecting the ways of life of the First Nations people and the environment as a whole. We are truly in a time where the whole world is watching and the decisions of many are made by the few.

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