The Watts Riots
or the Watts Rebellion
was a civil disturbance in the Watts
Watts is a mostly residential neighborhood in South Los Angeles, California.-History:The area now known as Watts is located on the Rancho La Tajauta Mexican land grant...
of Los Angeles, California
Los Angeles , with a population at the 2010 United States Census of 3,792,621, is the most populous city in California, USA and the second most populous in the United States, after New York City. It has an area of , and is located in Southern California...
from August 11 to August 15, 1965. The 5-day riot resulted in 34 deaths, 1,032 injuries, and 3,438 arrests. It was the most severe riot in the city's history until the Los Angeles riots of 1992.
On the evening of August 11, 1965, Marquette Frye, a 21-year-old African American man, was pulled over by white California Highway Patrol
The California Highway Patrol is a law enforcement agency of the U.S. state of California. The CHP has patrol jurisdiction over all California highways and also acts as the state police....
motorcycle officer Lee Minikus on suspicion of driving while intoxicated. Minikus was convinced Frye was under the influence and radioed for his car to be impounded. Marquette's brother Ronald, a passenger in the car, walked to their house nearby bringing their mother back with him. Backup police officers arrived and attempted to arrest Frye by using physical force to subdue him. As the situation intensified, growing crowds of local residents watching the exchange began yelling and throwing objects at the police officers. Frye's mother and brother fought with the officers and they were eventually arrested along with Marquette.
Watts suffered from various forms and degrees of damage from the residents' looting and vandalism that seriously threatened the security of the city. Some participants chose to intensify the level of violence by starting physical fights with police, blocking the firemen of the Los Angeles Fire Department
The Los Angeles Fire Department is the agency that provides fire protection and emergency medical services for the city of Los Angeles....
from their safety duties, or even beating white motorists. Others joined the riot by breaking into stores, stealing whatever they could, and some setting the stores on fire.
LAPD Police Chief William Parker fueled the racialized tension that already threatened to combust, by publicly labeling the people he saw involved in the riots as "monkeys in the zoo". Overall, an estimated $40 million in damage was caused as almost 1,000 buildings were damaged or destroyed. Most of the physical damage was confined to white
White Americans are people of the United States who are considered or consider themselves White. The United States Census Bureau defines White people as those "having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa...
-owned businesses that were said to have caused resentment in the neighborhood due to perceived unfairness. Homes were not attacked, although some caught fire due to proximity to other fires.
Wednesday, August 11
- A white California highway patrolman, Lee Minikus, arrested Marquette Frye at around 7 p.m. after Frye failed his sobriety tests.
- By 7:23 all three Fryes—Marquette, his brother Ronald, and their mother—had been arrested as a crowd of a couple hundred gathered around the scene.
- The police withdrew by 7:40, leaving behind an angered, tense crowd.
- For the last 4 hours of the night, the mob stoned cars and threatened police in the area.
Thursday, August 12
- Black leaders such as preachers, teachers, and businessmen tried to restore order in the community after a night of rampage, telling people to stay indoors.
- Around 10 a.m. community workers and officers called residents in the area, telling them to remain in their houses.
- At 2 p.m. a community meeting was held, at which members representing different neighborhood groups discussed solutions to the problem at hand; the meeting failed.
Saturday, August 14
- By 1 a.m. there were around 100 fire brigades in the areas, trying to put out fires started by rioters.
- Over 3,000 national guardsmen had joined the police by this time in trying to maintain order on the streets.
- By midnight there were around 13,900 guardsmen in the area.
Sunday, August 15
- The riots died down, leaving around $40 million in property damage.
- Churches, community groups, and government agencies gave out aid.
- The vandalism ceased and the curfew was lifted by Tuesday, August 17
- By the following Sunday, a week later, less than 300 national guardsmen remained to help out with the aftermath.
| Businesses & Private Buildings
|| Public Buildings
| Damaged/burned: 258
|| Damaged/burned: 14
| Looted: 192
| Both damaged/burned & looted: 288
| Destroyed: 267
|| Destroyed: 1
|| Total: 977
Eventually, the California National Guard
The National Guard of the United States is a reserve military force composed of state National Guard militia members or units under federally recognized active or inactive armed force service for the United States. Militia members are citizen soldiers, meaning they work part time for the National...
was called to active duty to assist in controlling the rioting. On Friday night, a battalion of the 160th Infantry and the 1st Reconnaissance Squadron of the 18th Armored Cavalry were sent into the riot area (about 2,000 men). Two days later, the remainder of the 40th Armored Division was sent into the riot zone. A day after that, units from northern California arrived (a total of around 15,000 troops). These National Guardsmen put a cordon around a vast region of South Central Los Angeles, and the rioting was largely over by Sunday.
Due to the seriousness of the riots, martial law
Martial law is the imposition of military rule by military authorities over designated regions on an emergency basis— only temporary—when the civilian government or civilian authorities fail to function effectively , when there are extensive riots and protests, or when the disobedience of the law...
had been declared. Sergeant Ben Dunn said "The streets of Watts resembled an all-out war zone in some far-off foreign country, it bore no resemblance to the United States of America". The initial commander of National Guard troops was Colonel Bud Taylor, then a motorcycle patrolman with the Los Angeles Police Department, who in effect became superior to Chief of Police Parker. National Guard units from Northern California were also called in, including Major General Clarence H. Pease, former commanding general of the National Guard's 40th Infantry Division.
As this area was known to be under much racial and social tension, debates have surfaced over what really happened in Watts. Reactions and reasoning about the Watts incident greatly vary because those affected by and participating in the chaos that followed the original arrest had varying perspectives. A California gubernatorial commission under Governor Pat Brown
Edmund Gerald "Pat" Brown, Sr. was the 32nd Governor of California, serving from 1959 to 1967, and the father of current Governor of California Jerry Brown.-Background:...
investigated the riots. The McCone Commission, headed by former CIA
The Central Intelligence Agency is a civilian intelligence agency of the United States government. It is an executive agency and reports directly to the Director of National Intelligence, responsible for providing national security intelligence assessment to senior United States policymakers...
director John A. McCone, released a 101-page report on December 2, 1965 entitled Violence in the City—An End or a Beginning?: A Report by the Governor's Commission on the Los Angeles Riots, 1965
. The report identified the root causes of the riots to be high unemployment
Unemployment , as defined by the International Labour Organization, occurs when people are without jobs and they have actively sought work within the past four weeks...
, poor schools, and other inferior living conditions for African Americans in Watts. Recommendations for addressing these problems included "emergency literacy and preschool programs, improved police-community ties, increased low-income housing, more job-training projects, upgraded health-care services, more efficient public transportation, and many more." Most of these recommendations were not acted upon.
More opinions and explanations then appeared as other sources attempted to explain the causes as well. Public opinion polls have shown that around the same percentage of people believed that the riots were linked to Communist groups as those that blame social problems like unemployment and prejudice as the cause. Those opinions concerning racism and discrimination emerged only three years after hearings conducted by a committee of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights took place in Los Angeles to assess the condition of relations between the police force and minorities. The purpose of these hearings was also to make a ruling on the discrimination case against the police for their mistreatment of Black Muslims. These different arguments and opinions still continue to promote these debates over the underlying cause of Watts Riots. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke two days after the riots happened in Watts. 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.
- The film Menace ll society features the riots.
- The film There Goes My Baby
There Goes My Baby was directed by Stephen Fisher & Floyd Mutrux, and starred Dermot Mulroney, Rick Schroder, Noah Wyle, Lucy Deakins & Kelli Williams. It is also known under the name The Last Days of Paradise....
features the riots.
- The novel The New Centurions
The New Centurions, written by Joseph Wambaugh, is a novel depicting the stresses of police work in Los Angeles, California in the early 1960s. The author wrote the novel, his first, while a working member of the Los Angeles Police Department. The novel became a film starring George C...
, by Joseph Wambaugh
Joseph Aloysius Wambaugh, Jr. is a bestselling American writer known for his fictional and non-fictional accounts of police work in the United States...
, not only culminates in the Watts Riot but examines the negative impact of racist police in minority communities in the years preceding it.
- Frank Zappa
Frank Vincent Zappa was an American composer, singer-songwriter, electric guitarist, record producer and film director. In a career spanning more than 30 years, Zappa wrote rock, jazz, orchestral and musique concrète works. He also directed feature-length films and music videos, and designed...
wrote a lyrical commentary inspired by the Watts Riots, entitled "Trouble Every Day
"Trouble Every Day" is a song by The Mothers of Invention, released on their 1966 debut album Freak Out!.Frank Zappa wrote the song in 1965 at 1819 Bellevue Avenue, Echo Park, Los Angeles after watching news coverage of the Watts Riots...
", containing such lines as "Wednesday I watched the riot / Seen the cops out on the street / Watched 'em throwin' rocks and stuff /And chokin' in the heat". The song was originally released on his debut album Freak Out!
Freak Out! is the debut album by American band The Mothers of Invention, released June 27, 1966 on Verve Records. Often cited as one of rock music's first concept albums, the album is a satirical expression of frontman Frank Zappa's perception of American pop culture...
(with the original Mothers of Invention
The Mothers of Invention were an American band active from 1964 to 1969, and again from 1970 to 1975.They mainly performed works by, and were the original recording group of, US composer and guitarist Frank Zappa , although other members have had the occasional writing credit...
), and later slightly rewritten as "More Trouble Every Day", available on Roxy and Elsewhere and The Best Band You Never Heard In Your Life
The Best Band You Never Heard in Your Life is a double disc live album by Frank Zappa, released in 1991 . The album was one of three to be recorded during the 1988 world tour, along with Broadway the Hard Way and Make a Jazz Noise Here...
- The 1990 film Heat Wave
Heat Wave is a 1990 American action-thriller television film directed by Kevin Hooks and starring Blair Underwood, Cicely Tyson, James Earl Jones, Margaret Avery, and David Strathairn.-Cast:* Blair Underwood as Robert Richardson...
depicts the Watts Riots from the perspective of journalist Bob Richardson
Bob Richardson may refer to:*Bob Richardson , former Canadian Football League player*Bob Richardson , American fashion photographer*Bob Richardson , film animator and producer...
as a resident of Watts and a reporter of the riots for the LA Times.
- The producers of the "Planet of the Apes
La Planète des singes, known in English as Monkey Planet or Planet of the Apes, is a French 1963 science fiction novel by Pierre Boulle...
" franchise stated that the riots were the inspiration for the ape uprising in the film "Conquest of the Planet of the Apes
Conquest of the Planet of the Apes is a 1972 science fiction film directed by J. Lee Thompson. It is the fourth of five films in the original Planet of the Apes series produced by Arthur P. Jacobs. It explores how the apes rebelled from mankind's ill treatment following Escape from the Planet of...
- 1992 Los Angeles riots
The 1992 Los Angeles Riots or South Central Riots, also known as the 1992 Los Angeles Civil Unrest were sparked on April 29, 1992, when a jury acquitted three white and one hispanic Los Angeles Police Department officers accused in the videotaped beating of black motorist Rodney King following a...
- Race riot
A race riot or racial riot is an outbreak of violent civil disorder in which race is a key factor. A phenomenon frequently confused with the concept of 'race riot' is sectarian violence, which involves public mass violence or conflict over non-racial factors.-United States:The term had entered the...
- Billy G. Mills (born 1929), Los Angeles City Councilman, 1963–74, investigated Watts Riots
- Urban riots
Riots often occur in reaction to a perceived grievance or out of dissent. Riots may be the outcome of a sporting event, although many riots have occurred due to poor working or living conditions, government oppression, conflicts between races or religions....
- Watts Prophets
Wattstax is a 1973 documentary film by Mel Stuart that focused on the 1972 Wattstax music festival and the African American community of Watts in Los Angeles, California. The film was nominated for a Golden Globe award for Best Documentary Film in 1974...
- Zoot Suit Riots
The Zoot Suit Riots were a series of riots in 1943 during World War II that erupted in Los Angeles, California between white sailors and Marines stationed throughout thehi c mlc city and Latino youths, who were recognizable by the zoot suits they favored...
- 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.
- Guy Debord
Guy Ernest Debord was a French Marxist theorist, writer, filmmaker, member of the Letterist International, founder of a Letterist faction, and founding member of the Situationist International . He was also briefly a member of Socialisme ou Barbarie.-Early Life:Guy Debord was born in Paris in 1931...
, Decline and Fall of the Spectacle-Commodity Economy, 1965. A situationist interpretation of the riots
- Horne, Gerald, Fire This Time: The Watts Uprising and the 1960s, Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1995.
- Thomas Pynchon
Thomas Ruggles Pynchon, Jr. is an American novelist. For his most praised novel, Gravity's Rainbow, Pynchon received the National Book Award, and is regularly cited as a contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature...
, "A Journey into the Mind of Watts", 1966. full text
- David O' Sears The politics of violence: The new urban Blacks and the Watts riot
- Clayton D. Clingan Watts Riots
- Paul Bullock Watts: The Aftermath New York: Grove Press, Inc., 1969
- Johny Otis Listen to the Lambs. New York: W.W. Norton and Co.. 1968