the Watts Riots - August 11-16, 1965

On 11th August, 1965, two Black men were arrested1 by white police officers in Watts, a small, mostly Black neighborhood in Los Angeles. Local youths believed that the men were only being arrested because they were Black and quickly surrounded the police car. When the police sent reinforcements into Watts they were attacked with stones and bottles. The incident developed into a riot and there was considerable looting and a large number of businesses were fire-bombed. It was not until 16th of August that the National Guard was able to regain control of the Watts area. In the end, the riot left 34 dead, about a thousand people injured (estimates range from 856 to 1000+), nearly 4,000 arrested, and hundreds of buildings destroyed, at a cost of more than 200 million dollars in damage. Watts was never really rebuilt.

In many ways, 1965 was a time of new hope for race relations in America. The passage of the Civil Rights Act guaranteed Black people new rights and freedoms and tried to address gross discrimination in housing, employment and education. But many states acted quickly to circumvent the new federal law. California reacted with Proposition 14, which moved to block the fair housing components of the Civil Rights Act. This, and other acts, created a feeling of injustice and despair in the inner cities.

After the riots, then Governor Pat Brown named John McCone to head a commission to study the riots. The report issued by the Commission concluded that the riots were not the act of thugs, but rather symptomatic of much deeper problems: the high jobless rate in the inner city, poor housing, and bad schools. Although the problems were clearly pointed out in the report, no great effort was made to address them, or to rebuild what had been destroyed in the riots.


1They were either arrested for drunk driving, or for "a minor traffic violation." Maybe "minor traffic violation" = DUI or maybe newspaper accounts wanted to make what the men were arrested for sound worse/better. I don't know.
Sources:
Horne, Gerald. Fire This Time : The Watts Uprising and the 1960s. Da Capo Press: 1997.

Several different websites.

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