Princeton University professor Dr. Cornel West spoke to a crowd of almost 3,000 people at the Riverside Church in New York City on Friday during an evening of remembrance for another sort of 9/11.
On Sept. 9, 1971, inmates protesting poor living conditions took over a maximum security state prison in Attica, N.Y. Four days later, state troopers ordered to the site by Gov. Nelson Rockefeller emptied more than 2,000 rounds of ammunition into the crowd, killing 39 men and wounding 90 others. Other prisoners were beaten and tortured after the shooting stopped. The wounded were initially denied medical care. A quarter of a century later, New York state ceded $12 million in damages to the surviving prisoners.
West talked about the meaning of Attica 40 years ago and its relevance to the general struggle for social justice today. —ARK
CORNEL WEST: [The] problem is that most of our leaders have either sold out, caved in, gave up. They don’t want to tell people the truth. They’re too concerned about their careers. They’re too concerned about success. They’re too concerned about just winning the next election for their status. In 1971, the Attica brothers told the truth. But they weren’t the only ones. You had a whole cacophony of voices telling the truth. But who wants to tell the truth? The condition of truth is to allow suffering to speak. If you don’t talk about poverty, you’re not telling the truth. If you’re not talking about working people being pushed against the wall, with corporate profits high, you’re not telling the truth. If you’re not talking about the criminal activity on Wall Street and not one person gone to jail yet, you’re not telling the truth. Don’t tell me about the crime on the block with brothers and sisters and Jamal and Latisha out taken to jail, and yet gangsters who are engaged in fraudulent activity, insider trading, market manipulation, walking around having tea at night.