As of March 2, 2015, three white Attica guards – Sean Warner, Keith Swack, and Matthew Rademacher – who brutally beat black inmate George Williams have been charged, convicted and forced to resign. For the first time in the history of New York State, guards have been prosecuted for brutality against someone in prison. Sadly, however, this is not a victory.
Though the convictions may mark a turning point in holding guards accountable for their actions, the fact remains that the sentence is an insult and a mockery of the law. These men who literally behaved as a gang – four men smashing the bones of one unarmed young man with fists and batons, and then conspiring to cover it up – were allowed to plead guilty to misdemeanor misconduct. They will go on to receive their pensions, paid from our tax dollars. For those of us not protected by the blue wall of silence and its “union,” the charge would have no doubt been attempted murder!
We must also take note of the irregular circumstances of the convictions. The prosecution, on the very brink of the trial, offered the guards the same plea deal they had been rejecting for three years. This almost never happens. Yet, prosecutors made such an offer to three men who nearly beat another man to death – rather than have them tried for felonies and presumably convicted. Not only was the deal offered again, it was also accepted by Judge Muhon. Given the severity of the crime, Muhon could have rejected the deal. Instead, he sent a far different message: agents of the state will not be held to the same laws and standards as everyone else. For these guards to walk away with an official misconduct misdemeanor, no jail time, and one year probation makes an absolute joke of the so-called justice system.
To excuse their crime, the guards’ “union” has made much of the idea that the guards in Attica are under regular assault and subject to daily violence. But research conducted by Corrections Association of New York has shown that the guards are in fact the perpetrators. According to their Attica Factsheet, all prisoners in Attica report regular physical assault by guards and over 180 such incidents were severe enough to warrant report as a “use of force incident” from 2010-2013. Assaults are frequently accompanied by racial slurs and staff racism is a routine part of day-to-day life for prisoners. Sean Warner, Keith Swack, and Matthew Rademacher are bad apples, certainly. But they grew from a rotten tree with rotten roots.
Mr. Williams has not seen the people who brutalized him fully held to account for their actions – in fact, his physical and emotional trauma has been shamefully minimized. Moreover, even though they acted with tremendous courage in the face of potential retaliation, the people who witnessed this brutality and were willing to testify have been ignored. We are still yet a long, long way from justice.
More than one in every one hundred Americans is incarcerated. Forty percent of incarcerated people are black. The brutality committed against Mr. Williams by three white guards is not an isolated incident. The system is brutal. The system is racist. Not only are the guards guilty, but the system is guilty. We therefore demand what justice reasonably requires: closure of Attica Correctional Facility and a federal investigation of the racist brutality committed there.