Inmate sues Columbus Co. prison over banning of BET channel

Updated: Jun. 12, 2019 at 6:26 AM EDT
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RALEIGH, N.C. (WECT) - A Columbus County inmate has filed a federal lawsuit claiming his constitutional rights were violated after prison officials banned BET and other television channels aimed at African American viewers.

Maurice Alexander Williamson, who is serving a 12-year prison sentence for a habitual felon charge at Tabor Correctional in Tabor City, recently sued state prison officials in U.S. District Court in Raleigh.

Williamson claims black inmates at Tabor Correctional submitted a petition in April requesting BET be added to the prison’s television lineup, but were ultimately denied. He maintained that channels such as TNT, FX, AMC, and Discovery are allowed and are geared toward white audiences which he said amounts to “an advantage or some and not others.”

In the lawsuit, Williamson asked that “the black networks be granted and treated no different then [how] they threat the other networks.”

In response to a grievance that Williamson filed in April over the decision, a staff member at Tabor Correctional said the channel is not allowed due to “graphical content and violence” which applies to other channels that are restricted at the prison.

“The channel being banned has nothing to do with any of the classifications in which you speak,” wrote Michael B. McPherson. “Furthermore, there would be a valid complaint by others if the (BET) channel was offered due to it not being for all audiences and just a specific race.”

However, in Williamson’s lawsuit, he noted that Animal Kingdom, American Horror Story, Breaking Bad, and Killing Eve are among the violent programs that air on the channels that are allowed.

“There are no videos or any gang programs on BET,” Williamson said.

Another prison staffer, Patricia Alston, also dismissed Williamson’s April grievance, saying complaints only cover prison conditions such as medical care, quality of food, and staff conduct, and is not extended to privileges such as television.

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