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Aug 23, ISBN Holding guards and civilian employees hostage, the prisoners negotiated with officials for improved conditions during the four long days and nights that followed.

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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.

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Blood in the Water

The power of this superb work of history comes from its methodical mastery of interviews, transcripts, police reports and other documents, covering 35 years, many released only reluctantly by government agencies. Impressively authoritative and thoughtfully composed. Blood in the Water is a historical tour de force. It sheds new light on these most important historical events, events that in part triggered the wave of exponential prison growth today.

Forty-five years after the Attica uprising, Blood in the Water offers the most complete history to date on that tragic episode and does so with unflinching purpose: a clearer view of the consequences for human life, both past and present.

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There were 39 dead, 29 prisoners and 10 hostages, and people had been shot. Though the riot was widely publicized as it unfolded, its multifaceted and fast-moving nature led to a lack of crucial information and considerable misinformation. But not all of the key details of the riots emerged — and not all of the errors were corrected. The facts matter, and they are necessary to a full understanding of the riot and its larger significance. Thompson describes the whole event — from the days leading up to the uprising all the way through the retaking of the prison — with amazing details culled from interviews with former inmates, hostages, and their families; journalists; attorneys; state officials; and a huge array of historical records, court documents, and legislative reports.

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Thompson could have ended her narrative after the retaking of the prison and the book would have been a great accomplishment. She devotes significant space to every legislative task force or body and there were many that investigated and wrote reports on the uprising. In her page account, she not only provides the most detailed history of the Attica uprising since , but also examines the roles of almost everyone who played any part in it, from prisoner L. Commissioner Oswald, for one, had spent his life as a prison reformer and hoped to end the standoff peacefully, but that was not to be.


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The prisoners requested a team of observers to help them negotiate with the state, and they got an impressive one. But before a settlement could be reached, Rockefeller made the decision to send in New York State Troopers and National Guardsman to quell the riot.


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Rockefeller was sharply criticized for declining to visit Attica during the riot despite pleas from the negotiating team and the hostages. Heartbreakingly, when some of the prisoners saw the helicopters fly over the open-air D Yard where many of them were gathered, they thought perhaps it was finally the Governor himself coming to speak to them.

The helicopters instead dropped CS and CN gas over the prison, which cause tearing and nausea. State Troopers then stormed the prison with their identification removed, shooting almost blindly.