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Watts riots

The Watts Riots were a large-scale civil disorder lasting six days in Los Angeles, California in 1965. During the riots, 34 people were killed, 1,100 people were injured, 4,000 people were arrested, and an estimated $100 million in damage was caused.

The riots began on August 11, 1965 in Watts, when a white Los Angeles Policeman on a motorcycle pulled over African American Marquette Frye, whom someone reported was driving drunk. While police questioned Frye and his brother Ronald Frye, a group of people began to gather. A struggle ensued shortly after Frye's mother Rena arrived on the scene, resulting in the arrest of all three family members. Police used their batons to subdue Frye and his brother, angering the growing crowd. Shortly after the police left, tensions boiled over and the rioting began.

Most of the damage was confined to businesses that had caused resentment in the neighborhood due to the perception of unfairness. Homes were not attacked, although some caught fire due to proximity to other fires.

A gubernatorial commission investigated the riots, identifying the causes as high unemployment, poor schools, and other inferior living conditions. The government made little effort to address the problems or repair damages. The riots were also a response to Proposition 14, a constitutional amendment sponsored by the California Real Estate Association that had in effect repealed the Rumford Fair Housing Act.

Further reading

  • Cohen, Jerry and William S. Murphy, Burn, Baby, Burn! The Los Angeles Race Riot, August, 1965, New York: Dutton, 1966.
  • Conot, Robert, Rivers of Blood, Years of Darkness, New York: Bantam, 1967.
  • Thomas Pynchon, A Journey into the Mind of Watts, 1966. full text
  • Violence in the City — An End or a Beginning?, A Report by the Governor's Commission on the Los Angeles Riots, 1965, John McCone, Chairman, Warren M. Christopher, Vice Chairman. Official Report online

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