This is the third time since mid-October that the prison’s Media Review Committee has censored the Militant in violation of the Bill of Rights and the New York State Department of Correction’s own rules and regulations.
Attica officials’ “constantly shifting, unexplained and inexplicable grounds for censorship of the three issues,” the Militant’s lawyer, David Goldstein, writes, “is arbitrary and capricious.” Goldstein is from the prominent civil liberties law firm Rabinowitz, Boudin, Standard, Krinsky & Lieberman.
The first issue of the Militant that prison officials impounded was the Oct. 3 issue, which featured an article on the 1971 Attica prison rebellion. Attica officials claimed that issue had “offensive portions” that could “incite rebellion against government authority.” The Militant’s story was a factual news article, like dozens of others that appeared in papers, magazines and TV stations all across the country, covering the anniversary as an event of historical importance.
One month later Attica impounded the Oct. 31 issue of the paper, claiming a short article on the Militant’s appeal of the previous censorship “could incite disobedience.”
The latest notice of censorship claimed that the paper was banned solely because of what appears on “P. 6 top right.” That refers to a reduced image of the front page of the Oct. 3 issue. The Inmate Disposition Notice impounding the issue claims that this image “could incite violence against prison staff.” The notice makes no mention of the article on the fight against censorship at Attica, which the picture illustrates.
New York prison regulations say that its policy is “to encourage inmates to read publications from varied sources.” The publications may not “incite disobedience” or advocate or present “a clear and immediate risk of lawlessness, violence, anarchy, or rebellion against Governmental authority.” They include the Militant in a list of papers that are specifically to be allowed into the prison.
Attica authorities make no such case against the Militant, Goldstein notes. The reason is obvious, he says. “No reasonable, fair minded review” could conclude that any of the articles advocate violence against prison officials.
It’s difficult to conclude that the pattern of impoundments amounts to “anything other than a blanket ban on any mention of Attica, of the Attica uprising, or of prisoners’ constitutional rights, unless parroting a viewpoint approved by prison officials,” Goldstein states.
Goldstein has not received any response from New York prison authorities to the Militant’s appeals.
A wide range of organizations and prominent individuals have issued statements calling on Attica to reverse its censorship of the Militant. They include the American Friends Service Committee; the Gathering for Justice and Justice League NYC; Mothers and Families, New Market, Alabama; National Lawyers Guild; New York Civil Liberties Union; Pen America; Yusef Salaam, one of the Central Park Five; San Francisco Bay View monthly; and Heather Ann Thompson, author of Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy.
Muntaqim, also known as Anthony Bottom, has faced many other restrictions on his constitutional rights from Attica officials. Last year books sent to him, including a volume of his own poems, were blocked. Prison officials have been interfering with his mail. And in December he was sentenced to four months in solitary confinement for historical comments he made about the Black Panther Party and gang violence during a class he teaches to fellow inmates on Black history.
“If Attica and New York state prison officials think they can tire us out by stalling and refusing to rescind their censorship of the Militant, they are mistaken,” said Militant editor John Studer. “We will continue to fight for the freedom of the press and for the constitutional rights of all workers behind bars.”
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