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Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy (2016)

Tekijä: Heather Ann Thompson

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"Historian Heather Ann Thompson offers the first definitive telling of the Attica prison uprising, the state's violent response, and the victims' decades-long quest for justice--in time for the forty-fifth anniversary of the events"--

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Näyttää 1-5 (yhteensä 7) (seuraava | näytä kaikki)
This book took me almost five months to read entirely, partially because it is a dense legal history spanning some forty years, and more importantly, it is a witness to a huge amount of past and present human suffering, to a level of abuse of power that remains hard to fathom, to many many people working relentlessly for a level of justice they know will and can only be inadequate. It's a hard book to read. It is an incredible piece of work, and I am deeply deeply grateful it exists. It is as close to the truth as most people today can access about what happened at Attica, and it sheds a light on so many related struggles, in the past and right now. ( )
  localgayangel | Mar 5, 2024 |
It is surprising the Attica prison uprising and massacre are not better known today, disgracefully as they reflect on official America, and evocatively as they sum up the state of dissension into which the country had fallen after the upheavals of the Sixties. This was really a home-grown My Lai and Watergate in one, both brutal lethal action and state cover-up.

In 1971, conditions in a New York state prison provoked a prisoner riot and takeover. One guard was killed and others beaten and taken hostage, before the prisoners organized themselves to protect the hostages and provide them comforts. A small number of other serious prisoner-on-prisoner crimes took place during the takeover, but in the main the guards and civilian observers were treated well after the initial riot. After negotiations stalled over amnesty, which hostages begged Governor Rockefeller to grant, state troopers assaulted the prison with tear gas, shotguns and rifles, but without training, planning or clear rules of engagement. Riled up by untrue claims about prisoner brutality, racism against the mainly black prisoners, fear of radicals, and a days-long itch to get even, they shot dead 9 of the guards and dozens of prisoners in the barely coordinated assault, then proceeded to commit cold-blooded murders and torture. The state and police claimed the prisoners had executed the guards, until coroners publicly stated the deaths had been from firearms.

Afterwards, the state police investigative unit, which had been involved in the assault, was allowed to carry out the investigation, which entailed faking and destroying evidence, and coercing or suborning testimony from prisoners. Police leaders met with the Governor and his officials to cooperate on their stories. Trials proceeded for prisoners but not for any police or state agent. Only years later did prosecutorial assistant lawyer Malcolm Bell blow the whistle from the inside on police misconduct, after the state deepened the cover-up by shutting down his grand jury indictments of police, and instead putting up police commanders who had led the cover-up as grand jury witnesses to immunise them against prosecution. Even then, Governor Carey tried to close the book on Attica by pardoning the prisoners and ending any efforts to prosecute police. It took 30 years for a lawyer for the prisoners to get the state to settle civil claims over the violence, torture and abuse, for just $12m, and longer for the hostages and their families to get $20m. ( )
  fji65hj7 | May 14, 2023 |
Detailed account of the Attica riot, coming at a time of great social upheaval, which ended in deadly violence against inmates and the prison worker hostages they were holding (a number of whom were killed during the indiscriminate retaking). Rockefeller declined to send in the National Guard out of fear of another Kent State, but then made sure that higher-ups were insulated from the decisionmaking. The result was that a bunch of state police and prison guards went in, after hiding their identification and deliberately obscuring who had which guns, and then even after the riot was quelled continued to physically torture and torment the surviving inmates. ( )
  rivkat | Mar 20, 2019 |
5532. Blood in the Water The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy, by Heather Ann Thompson (read 17 Feb 2018) (Pulitzer History prize in 2017)This book tells the story of the Attica uprising in 1971 and of the subsequent events as the prisoners and hostages strove to obtain justice for the brutal methods used to subdue the uprising, involving much reckless and even criminal behavior in the poorly planned putting down of the prisoners' revolt. Governor Rockafeller did his best to try to cover up the evil that ,was perpetrated by the law officers who subdued the revolt. The legal system in New York does not come out looking very well; The author has done a lot of difficult research and there were still legal proceedings related to the uprising going on as recently as 2015, more than 40 years after the event. The author is not a lawyer and it shows but she has brought out such that was poorly done by the state and its lawyers and officers. Sometimes one thought that a more balanced account would have been more telling, since the facts do show misbehavior by lawyers and, surprisingly, judges in the long legal wrangling. I thought the book was over-long (578 pages of text, and 106 pages of notes) and I confess that the setting out of bad things suffered by many prisoners did not make for pleasant reading and I was glad to finish the book. But the accumulation of bad things done to the prisoners for many years is pretty convincing to show how hard it was for them to be afforded some justice in regard to the mistreatment they suffered. It is the 56th Pulitzer history prize winner I have read. ( )
  Schmerguls | Feb 17, 2018 |
In Blood In the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy, Heather Ann Thompson traces the trajectory of the Attica Uprising from the events that precipitated it through the lengthy legal battles of just a few years prior to her publication. She describes in detail the State of New York’s efforts to cover up its own culpability for the brutality and death that resulted in the New York State Police’s retaking of the facility. Thompson sums up the goal of the uprising while discussing the observers’ efforts at meeting with prisoners. The chants of “Power to the People” were, according to Thompson, “what Attica, at its core, was all about. These disfranchised and seemingly disposable men were determined to stand together, in unity, to make some concrete changes to their lives” (pg. 111).
Discussing the beginning of the disaster, Thompson writes, “It was obvious to anyone who was at Attica that members of law enforcement were so riled up that it would be difficult, if not impossible, for them to do their job dispassionately should they be sent in to retake the prison” (pg. 153). She continues, “Whereas the National Guard had a clear plan already in place for bringing civil disturbances in confined areas under control, known as Operation Plan Skyhawk, the New York State Police had virtually no formal training for this sort of action” (pg. 165). Rockefeller and his subordinates feared the image of National Guardsmen storming the prison would too closely evoke Kent State. As the police readied, “although for full days had passed during which those in charge could have ensured that all protocols regarding the distribution of weapons were followed, none of the weapons now being readied for the retaking had been formally recorded. And thus, the men who were about to go into Attica were accountable to no one” (pg. 168).
Thompson describes the beginning of the cover-up following the retaking of the prison. She writes, NYSP “Captain Henry Williams went to great lengths to thwart every state effort to ask thorny questions about the actions of his men. And he went even further than that. In the immediate aftermath of the retaking, Williams took it upon himself to make sure as much evidence as possible was collected that might indicate that a prisoner committed a crime…while also making sure that nothing related to the shooting – shell casings, the weapons themselves – was collected” (pg. 288). In discussing Malcolm Bell’s attempt to apply justice evenly, Thompson writes that, despite efforts of NYSP to withhold evidence, “The one thing that [troopers’ statements] did provide, in a few instances, was evidence of which specific prisoners were shot by which specific troopers and, as important, evidence of which troopers had fired their weapons without justification and thus, in all likelihood, criminally” (pg. 409). She continues, “In the course of processing how it was that vital hindering cases had been allowed to implode, Bell eventually came to believe that a serious prosecution of members of law enforcement had in fact been set up to fail from the moment Simonetti had told him to switch his efforts from the shooter cases to cases of hindering the investigation back in August of 1974” (pg. 422). Further, “By the close of fall 1974, Bell had begun to worry that he had stumbled upon an outright conspiracy to protect Attica’s shooters, one that reached to the highest level of his own Attica investigation as well as to the office of the former governor, Nelson Rockefeller” (pg. 435). This led Bell to turn whistleblower in an attempt to expose the truth, though the State of New York managed to mitigate his revelations.
The state further betrayed the hostages, many of whom were state employees, by tricking them into accepting workman’s compensation in order to prevent them from filing a lawsuit. Thompson writes, “Without formally filing for workman’s compensation, the checks simply showed up soon after the retaking. Unbeknownst to the recipients, the instant that an Attica survivor or widow signed and cashed one of these checks, under New York state law they had ‘elected a remedy,’ which meant that they could no longer sue the state for damages” (pg. 518). In discussing the former hostages’ and their relatives’ attempts to sue the state, Thompson writes, “Getting a state official to acknowledge under oath who had shot John Monteleone, a hostage who had later died from that same shot, was huge. For the purposes of this lawsuit it confirmed just how excessive and brutal the shooting during the retaking had been. Of course it also confirmed that state officials were aware who had killed whom at Attica – the very point that Malcolm Bell had been trying to make when he went public back in 1975” (pg. 524).
Thompson concludes, “The Attica uprising of 1971 happened because ordinary men, poor men, disfranchised men, and men of color had simply had enough of being treated as less than human. That desire, and their fight, is by far Attica’s most important legacy” (pg. 570). Further, “The Attica prison uprising of 1971 shows the nation that even the most marginalized citizens will never stop fighting to be treated as human beings. It testifies to this irrepressible demand for justice. This is Attica’s legacy” (pg. 571). ( )
  DarthDeverell | Dec 27, 2017 |
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