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Attica Uprising Author Sues Over NY's Banning Her Book in Prisons

“Attica! Attica!” was once a radical civil rights battle cry invoking violent state police attacks on inmates at New York’s Attica Correctional Facility in 1971. Nearly a dozen New York prisons have banned a history book recounting the prison uprising, says a federal lawsuit filed Thursday by the author. Heather Ann Thompson filed suit Thursday over New York state’s censorship of her Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971,” which she says has been repeatedly blocked from being distributed to New York inmates, Courthouse News Service reports. Filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union Foundation and the Cardozo Civil Rights Clinic, the complaint to bar the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision from preventing the distribution of “Blood in the Water” in the state’s prison system.


Citing the First and Fourteenth Amendments, Thompson, a University of Michigan historian, says the state prison system is attempting to obscure the history of the five-day Attica rebellion, when inmates demanded better conditions, including getting better medical care, more toilet paper and increased visiting hours. Inmates in other states "have had the opportunity to access ‘Blood in the Water,’ benefiting from the historical perspective it offers, as well as the book’s key insights into the importance of recognizing the humanity of incarcerated individuals and the consequences of an inhumane criminal justice system,” the complaint states. The prisoners’ uprising became a pollical rallying cry in the 1970s: “Attica State! Attica State!” was included in John Lennon’s 1971 song of the same name, and “Attica! Attica!” was famously chanted by Al Pacino to stir up a crowd of New Yorkers in the 1975 bank heist film “Dog Day Afternoon.” A state commission on the Attica riots condemned indiscriminate violence against prisoners by state police in their attempt to quell the uprising. “With the exception of Indian massacres in the late 19th century, the s assault which ended the four-day prison uprising was the bloodiest one-day encounter between Americans since the Civil War,” the panel said.

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