Blood in the Water
The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy
PULITZER PRIZE WINNER • The definitive history of the infamous 1971 Attica Prison uprising, the state's violent response, and the victim's decades-long quest for justice. • Thompson served as the Historical Consultant on the Academy Award-nominated documentary feature ATTICA
“Gripping ... deals with racial conflict, mass incarceration, police brutality and dissembling politicians ... Makes us understand why this one group of prisoners [rebelled], and how many others shared the cost.” —The New York Times
On September 9, 1971, nearly 1,300 prisoners took over the Attica Correctional Facility in upstate New York to protest years of mistreatment. Holding guards and civilian employees hostage, the prisoners negotiated with officials for improved conditions during the four long days and nights that followed.
On September 13, the state abruptly sent hundreds of heavily armed troopers and correction officers to retake the prison by force. Their gunfire killed thirty-nine men—hostages as well as prisoners—and severely wounded more than one hundred others. In the ensuing hours, weeks, and months, troopers and officers brutally retaliated against the prisoners. And, ultimately, New York State authorities prosecuted only the prisoners, never once bringing charges against the officials involved in the retaking and its aftermath and neglecting to provide support to the survivors and the families of the men who had been killed.
Drawing from more than a decade of extensive research, historian Heather Ann Thompson sheds new light on every aspect of the uprising and its legacy, giving voice to all those who took part in this forty-five-year fight for justice: prisoners, former hostages, families of the victims, lawyers and judges, and state officials and members of law enforcement. Blood in the Water is the searing and indelible account of one of the most important civil rights stories of the last century.
(With black-and-white photos throughout)
Thompson (Whose Detroit?), a University of Michigan historian with expertise in mass incarceration, brilliantly exposes the realities of the Attica prison uprising, in which 43 prisoners and guards were killed. Writing with cinematic clarity from meticulously sourced material, Thompson describes the uprising and its causes as well as the violent retaking of the prison grounds by police and correction officers. These events form the backdrop for the decades-long tale of New York State's cynical, politically driven prosecutions of inmates caught in the uprising, and the state's parallel effort to suppress attempts to expose the criminal conduct of law enforcement during and after the suppression of the rebellion. Thompson unmasks the government misconduct that delayed reparations for both inmates and correction officer hostages who were killed or wounded by law enforcement during the chaotic events. The excruciating detail underscores the dangers of governmental abuse of power. As the long drama unfolds many heroes arise, including members of the truth-seeking press and the lawyers who doggedly helped the unpopular inmates to secure a $12 million settlement. The villains include venal prosecutors and politicians who engaged in a classic cover-up. Thompson's superb and thorough study serves as a powerful tale of the search for justice in the face of the abuses of institutional power.
Heather Thompson does a beautiful job if not gut-wrenching job depicting one of the most gruesome and barbaric accounts of American history I have ever read. Anyone even kind of curious about how far this country is willing to go to LIE and DECEIVE and SACRIFICE its “proud Americans” should read this book.
Hard to put down
Read this book. It is a rare combination of exhaustive, comprehensive storytelling and absolutely gripping, page-turning narrative. In light of today's Black Lives Matter movement, the events and mostly the aftermath of Attica are poignantly relevant and a harsh testimony to how little progress we have made in terms of true social justice in America. The sense of outrage is palpable.
Blood in the Water
Another very appropriate title for this book would be "Required Reading." I did not see an index in the iPad version; I hope there is one in the paper version.