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Articles: Places
Los Angeles Watts Riot of 1965
the first major racially-fueled rebellion of the 1960s, an event that foreshadowed the widespread urban violence of the latter half of the decade

Watts Riot
Watts residents make their way through rubble in the aftermath of the 1965 riots.

With the arrest of a 21 year old African American, Los Angeles's South Central neighborhood of Watts erupted into violence. On August 11, 1965, a Los Angeles police officer flagged down motorist Marquette Frye, whom he suspected of being intoxicated. When a crowd of onlookers began to taunt the policeman, a second officer was called in. According to eyewitness accounts, the second officer struck crowd members with his baton, and news of the act of police brutality soon spread throughout the neighborhood. The incident, combined with escalating racial tensions, overcrowding in the neighborhood, and a summer heat wave, sparked violence on a massive scale. Despite attempts the following day aimed at quelling anti police sentiment, residents began looting and burning local stores.
In the rioting, which lasted five days, more than 34 people died, at least 1000 were wounded, and an estimated $200 million in property was destroyed. An estimated 35,000 African Americans took part in the riot, which required 16,000 National Guardsmen, county deputies, and city police to put down. Although city officials initially blamed outside agitators for the insurrection, subsequent studies showed that the majority of participants had lived in Watts all their lives. These studies also found that the protesters' anger was directed primarily at white shopkeepers in the neighborhood and at members of the all-white Los Angeles police force. The rioters left black churches, libraries, businesses and private homes virtually untouched.

The Watts Riot was the first major lesson for American public on the tinderbox volatility of segregated inner-city neighborhoods. The riot provided a sobering preview of the violent urban uprisings of the late 1960s and helped define several hardcore political camps: militant blacks applauded the spectacle of rage; moderates lamented the riot's senselessness and self-destructiveness; and conservative whites viewed the uprising as a symptom of the aggressive pace of civil rights legislation.

The Watts Riot changed California's political landscape and damaged a number of political careers, including that of Governer Edmund G. "Pat" Brown. The liberal Brown lost his office to challenger Ronald Reagan, in part because Reagan was able to pin the blame on the incumbent for the riot.

Contributed By: Eric Bennett


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