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

by Heather Ann Thompson

Hardcover, 2016




Pantheon (2016), Edition: First Edition, 752 pages


"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"--

User reviews

LibraryThing member muddyboy
A wonderfully researched and written study about the prison riot at Attica in 1971. This is a shocking book not so much about the event itself but more so about the state of New York's cover up afterward and their reluctance to pay for damages even to the hostages after all that happened to them. Then there were the many claims by the prisoners that they were abused by the police during and after the siege to take back control of the prison. Really a thought provoking book with regard to the current state of our prison system.… (more)
LibraryThing member DarthDeverell
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).
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LibraryThing member Fearshop
This book will change how you look at America's prisons and it's lawmakers. This is not a light read. Tons of info from 1971 right up until 2015. What struck me the hardest is how politicians could care less about prisoner rights OR correction officers and their families througout the entire 30 years fight for justice. How some of these men slept at night I don't know. Also, I never knew about the torture that took place at Attica. Truly shocking.… (more)
LibraryThing member rivkat
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.… (more)


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752 p.; 6.5 inches


0375423222 / 9780375423222

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