Monday, June 24, 2013

A Spark in the Powder Keg: Remembering the Watts Riots

48 years ago Los Angeles labored through the most violent riots in its history for 6 long days.
This was the epitome of Civil Rights defiance in urban America.
South L.A. had been the festering ground of racial violence and the heavy minority population was constantly fighting against police discrimination as well.
This was the era when burning crosses on the front lawns of homes was not an uncommon sight.
Whites were also shooting guns and throwing bombs into the homes of black families while those families were sitting down to their evening meal, not bothering anyone, just daring to live their lives as they deserved to, which some extremist whites saw as a personal affront to their way of life.

Blacks suffered higher unemployment, terrible schools, and substandard housing.  They wanted better.
They wanted to end racial discrimination against themselves and their children.

It had been a long hot summer and turmoil was boiling just below the surface, a jagged undercurrent in everyday life.

And then it all exploded.
A young man, Marquette Frye, was pulled over by a white patrolman who accused him of drunk driving.  He was nearly home and as a crowd gathered to protest the treatment of Frye, his mother heard what was happening a few blocks away and hurried down there to help her son.
When she witnessed her son being whacked across the head with a cop's baton, she leapt upon another officer. They were both arrested and the crowd that had gathered was outraged and rapidly magnified from a protesting cluster to an impassioned mob, their pent-up rage finally channeled into a singular purpose for destruction.

The rioting was centered in the commercial center of Watts, though it soon became an unfamiliar war zone full of smoke, broken glass, and National Guardsmen attempting to subdue rioters and looters.

More than 30 people were killed, more than 1,000 seriously injured, and more than 4,000 arrested.
While it was happening public officials refused to examine the true, justifiable causes behind the origin of the rioting and instead blamed outside hippie agitators.

After they were over a commission revealed the true cause, and the result?
No measures were implemented to improve the socio-economic conditions of blacks in Watts.
But Watts did incite riots in other cities, shock the white American public, and bring dramatic attention tot he Civil Rights cause.

I write this because Rena Price has passed away.  She was the mother defending her son from police brutality one August afternoon that started it all.  She was 97 years old.

 Much has improved since 1965, much has seen a turn for the worse.  Are things better?
Could race riots happen in this day and age?
Would we peel ourselves away from our engrossing personal lives to participate in something we believe in, or just follow it on Twitter and Instagram?

Watts today--could it happen again?
More on Rena
Timeline of the riots
Context--what else was going on in 1965?

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