Watts Race Riot

Watts Race Riot

On 11th August, 1965, two African Americans were arrested by white police officers for a minor vehicle violation in Watts, a small neighbourhood in Los Angeles. Local youths believed that the police officers had been influenced by the race of the two men and quickly surrounded the police car. When the police sent reinforcement 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 August that the National Guard was able to regain control of the Watts area. In that time 34 people were killed and property damage was estimated at around 40 million dollars.


Watts Race Riot - History

If there is one thing I think we have learned from the civil rights struggle, it is that the problem of bringing the Negro American into an equal role in our society is more complex, and is more urgent, and is much more critical than any of us have ever known. Who of you could have predicted 10 years ago, that in this last, sweltering, August week thousands upon thousands of disenfranchised Negro men and women would suddenly take part in self government, and that thousands more in that same week would strike out in an unparalleled act of violence in this Nations.

Our conscience cries out against the hatred that we heard last week. It bore no relation to the orderly struggle for civil rights that has ennobled the last decade. Every leader in that struggle has condemned this outrage against the laws of the land. And during the few days that preceded it, I had spent all week at the White House visiting individually with Dr. King, Mr. Farmer, Dr. Roy Wilkins, Mr. Philip Randolph—all talking about the great meeting that we had to have here later in the fall, because the cities of this Nation and the Negro family in this Nation are two of our most pressing, most important problems. Well, the bitter years that preceded the riots, the death of hope where hope existed, their sense of failure to change the conditions of life—these things no doubt led to these riots. But they did not justify them.

I hope that every American who believes in equal opportunity for his fellow men, understands this distinction that I have made. For we shall never achieve a free and prosperous and hopeful society until we have suppressed the fires of hate and we have turned aside from violence—whether that violence comes from the nightriders of the Klan, or the snipers and the looters in the Watts district Neither old wrongs nor new fears can ever justify a reason or murder. With . . . rights comes responsibility. And with responsibility there goes obligation.

We cannot, and we must not, in one breath demand laws to protect the rights of all of our citizens, and then turn our back, or wink, or in the next breath allow laws to be broken that protect the safety of our citizens. There just must never come the hour in this Republic when any citizen, whoever he is, can ever ignore the law or break the law with impunity.

And so long as I am your President I intend to preserve the rights of all of our citizens, and I intend to enforce the laws that protect all of our citizens— without regard to race, religion, region, or without fear or favor.

A rioter with a Molotov cocktail in his hands is not fighting for civil rights any more than a Klansman with a sheet on his back and a mask on his face. They are both more or less what the law declares them: lawbreakers, destroyers of constitutional rights and liberties, and ultimately destroyers of a free America. They must be exposed and they must be dealt with.

It is our duty—and it is our desire—to open our hearts to humanity's cry for help. It is our obligation to seek to understand what could lie beneath the flames b that scarred that great city. So let us equip the poor and the oppressed—let us equip them for the long march to dignity and to wellbeing. But let us never confuse the need for decent work and fair treatment with an excuse to destroy and to uproot.
Ours is an open society. The world is always witness to whatever we do—sometimes, I think (results of the cooperation of some of my friends) to some things we don't do. We would not have it otherwise. For the brave story of the Negro American is related to the struggle of men on every continent for their rights as sons of God. It is a compound of brilliant promises and stunning reverses. Sometimes, as in the past week when the two are mixed on the same pages of our newspapers and television screens, e result is baffling to all the world. And is baffling to me, and to you, and to us. .nd always there is the danger that hours of disorder may erase the accumulated goodwill of many months and many years. And warn and plead with all thinking Americans to contemplate this for a due period.

Yet beneath the discord we hear another theme. That theme speaks of a day when Americans of every color, and every creed, and every religion, and every region, and every sex can be trained for decent employment, can find it, can secure it, can have it preserved, and can support their families in an enriching and a rewarding environment.


Watts Riots: After 55 years, ghosts of violent race uprising that rocked Black LA neighborhood still haunt USA

A National Guard jeep patrols the Watts section of Los Angeles (Getty Images)

The protests that ensued after the death of George Floyd in May with demands to end police brutality and centuries-long systemic racism is a stark reminder that African-Americans have endured these atrocities for a very long time. Every major state across the nation saw demonstrators filing into the streets chanting 'Black Lives Matter' with the aim of bringing justice to the fallen brethren in the Black community who had been subject to bigotry and met an unfair end. This isn't the first time in history that protests seeking justice for African-Americans broke out, but it surely is among those that have been especially peaceful, impactful, and ceaseless. The George Floyd protests are still underway, over two months later.

August 11, 1965 was like any other day in the segregated Los Angeles neighborhood of Watts. Civil rights activists deemed the overcrowded locality the 'Black ghetto', with a 98 percent African-American population. Just like they are today, even back then, people were largely distrustful of the police. So, when a White California Highway Patrol officer Lee Minikus tried to arrest Marquette Frye, a young Black man, for driving drunk in the Watts neighborhood, it was the last straw for the community. The event raised the ire of fellow Black Americans and resulted in an uprising -- one of the most violent ones of its kind -- which famously came to be known as the 'Watts Riots'.

8/13/1965-Los Angeles: African-American residents of the Watts district look over damage early following the second night of wild rioting. Molotov cocktails were hurled at cars and buildings. More than 100 persons were injured including comedian Dick Gregory who was shot in the leg (Getty Images)

The protests that erupted was sparked by the attempted arrest, but fueled by the various problems the Watts residents had been facing including brutality at the hands of the police, high unemployment rates and limited access to health care. The riots lasted a whole week and saw a surge in violence like never before. Fires leveled hundreds of buildings and some three-dozen people lost their lives, two-thirds of whom were shot by police of National Guard troopers. Most of the buildings in Watts dated back decades to when the area was still predominantly white.

55 years ago, Watts was a powder keg of segregated racial tension, despite being legally integrated. The high school at Watts comprised a 99 percent Black student population but like many services available to the neighborhood, the school wasn't exactly serving them well. “Watts is the kind of community that cries out for urban renewal, poverty programs, job training. Almost anything would help. Two-thirds of its residents have less than a high school education one-eighth of them are technically illiterate,” Time magazine wrote in a 1965 cover story about the Watts riots. “Only 13% of the homes have been built since 1939—the rest are decaying and dilapidated.”

Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. addresses a group of Watts district residents and tells them he is "here to support you because you supported me in the South". King spoke only a few blocks away from the worst damage left in the wake of the week-long rampage during the Watts Riots of 1965 (Getty Images)

Each month, 1,000 hopeful Black Americans came to Los Angeles, mostly to Watts, in search of job opportunities but in vain. The federal government's Office of Economic Opportunity, under the office of President John F Kennedy, criticized then Los Angeles mayor Sam Yorty, for running the only major US city without an anti-poverty program. The federal body, run by Kennedy's brother-in-law Sargent Shriver, also called Yorty out for being one of the only two big-city mayors to refuse a confidential offer of federal grants towards job programs.

“I think the real cause is that N***o youth—jobless, hopeless—does not feel a part of American society,” movement leader Bayard Rustin told Time magazine. “The major job we have is to find them work, decent housing, education, training, so they can feel a part of the structure. People who feel a part of the structure do not attack it.” Time also estimated that the same federal program had created 4,000 jobs to keep Harlem, New York calm that summer, despite the unrest that had unfolded the previous year. Yorty's response was to accuse Shriver's agency of withholding the federal funds.

National Guard troops (Getty Images)

Another catalyst that drove this violent insurgence in the sprawling suburb was the scorching temperatures that had risen each day past 90 degrees Fahrenheit. But people were beyond enraged with law enforcement that was more like an oppressor than a protector of the law. A Time magazine article published a week later pinpointed LA police chief William Parker who demeaningly compared Watts rioters to "monkeys in a zoo." Even Dr Martin Luther King Jr said at that time that “[there] is a unanimous feeling that there has been police brutality” in Watts, despite a 1962 Civil Rights Commission investigations inability to pinpoint any specific instances.

The Watts riots were certainly not the end of interracial violence and demonstrations in Los Angeles. The city has been a boiling pot of racial and ethnic tensions since its inception. But the tipping point was the event of 1965 and by then, Watts was a largely Black town near South Central Los Angeles. The riots have also been deemed as among the worst in a series of riots that broke out in more than 100 cities in the late 1960s. It is also essential to note that the violence exploded in poor neighborhoods and areas concentrated with deprived minorities. The rioters' response to injustice was arson, looting as well as fighting with motorists, firemen, and the police.

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Contents

Police–community relations Edit

Before the release of the Rodney King tape, minority community leaders in Los Angeles had repeatedly complained about harassment and use of excessive force against their residents by LAPD officers. [9] Daryl Gates, Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) from 1978 to 1992, has been attributed with much of the blame for the riots. [10] [11] According to one study, "scandalous racist violence. marked the LAPD under Gates’s tempestuous leadership." [12] Under Gates, the LAPD had begun Operation Hammer in April 1987, which was a large-scale attempt to crack down on gang violence in Los Angeles.

The origin of Operation Hammer can be traced to the 1984 Olympic Games held in Los Angeles. Under Gates's direction, the LAPD expanded gang sweeps for the duration of the Olympics. These were implemented across wide areas of the city but especially in South Central and East Los Angeles, areas of predominately minority residents. After the games were over, the city began to revive the use of earlier anti-syndicalist laws in order to maintain the security policy started for the Olympic games. The police more frequently conducted mass arrests of African American youth, although the overwhelming number of them were never charged. Citizen complaints against police brutality increased 33 percent in the period 1984 to 1989. [13]

By 1990 more than 50,000 people, mostly minority males, had been arrested in such raids. [14] During this period, the LAPD arrested more young black men and women than at any period of time since the Watts riots of 1965. Critics have alleged that the operation was racist because it used racial profiling, targeting African-American and Mexican American youths. [15] The perception that police had targeted non-White citizens likely contributed to the anger that erupted in the 1992 riots. [16]

The Christopher Commission later concluded that a "significant number" of LAPD officers "repetitively use excessive force against the public and persistently ignore the written guidelines of the department regarding force." The biases related to race, gender, and sexual orientation were found to have regularly contributed to excessive force use. [17] The commission's report called for the replacement of both Chief Daryl Gates and the civilian Police Commission. [17]

Ethnic tensions Edit

In the year before the riots, 1991, there was growing resentment and violence between the African-American and Korean-American communities. [18] Racial tensions had been simmering for years between these groups. In 1989, the release of Spike Lee's film Do the Right Thing highlighted urban tensions between White Americans, Black Americans and Korean Americans over racism and economic inequality. [19] Many Korean shopkeepers were upset because they suspected shoplifting from their black customers and neighbors. Many black customers were angry because they routinely felt disrespected and humiliated by Korean store owners. Neither group fully understood the extent or sheer enormity of the cultural differences and language barriers, which further fueled tensions. [20]

On March 16, 1991, a year before the Los Angeles riots, storekeeper Soon Ja Du shot and killed Latasha Harlins, a black ninth-grader after a physical altercation. Du was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and the jury recommended the maximum sentence of 16 years, but the judge, Joyce Karlin, decided against prison time and sentenced Du to five years of probation, 400 hours of community service, and a $500 fine instead. [21] Relations between the Black- and Korean-American communities significantly worsened after this, and the former became increasingly mistrustful of the criminal justice system. [22] A state appeals court later unanimously upheld Judge Karlin's sentencing decision in April 1992, a week before the riots. [23]

The Los Angeles Times reported on several other significant incidents of violence between the communities at the time:

Other recent incidents include the May 25, [1991] shooting of two employees in a liquor store near 35th Street and Central Avenue. The victims, both recent emigrants from Korea, were killed after complying with robbery demands made by an assailant described by police as an African-American. Last Thursday, an African-American man suspected of committing a robbery in an auto parts store on Manchester Avenue was fatally wounded by his accomplice, who accidentally fired a shotgun round during a struggle with the shop's Korean-American owner. "This violence is disturbing, too," store owner Park said. "But who cries for these victims? [24]

Rodney King incident Edit

On the evening of March 3, 1991, Rodney King and two passengers were driving west on the Foothill Freeway (I-210) through the Sunland-Tujunga neighborhood of the San Fernando Valley. [25] The California Highway Patrol (CHP) attempted to initiate a traffic stop and a high-speed pursuit ensued with speeds estimated at up to 115 mph (185 km/h), before King eventually exited the freeway at Foothill Boulevard. The pursuit continued through residential neighborhoods of Lake View Terrace in San Fernando Valley before King stopped in front of the Hanson Dam recreation center. When King finally stopped, LAPD and CHP officers surrounded King's vehicle and married CHP officers Timothy and Melanie Singer arrested him and two other car occupants. [26]

After the two passengers were placed in the patrol car, five Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officers – Stacey Koon, Laurence Powell, Timothy Wind, Theodore Briseno, and Rolando Solano – surrounded King, who came out of the car last. The officers involved were all White American, although Briseno and Solano were of Hispanic origin. [27] They tasered him, struck him dozens of times with side-handled batons, kick stomped him in his back and tackled him to the ground before handcuffing him and hogtying his legs. Sergeant Koon later testified at trial that King resisted arrest and believed King was under the influence of PCP at the time of the arrest caused him to be very aggressive and violent toward the officers. [28] Video footage of the arrest showed that King attempted to get up each time he was struck and that the police made no attempt to cuff him until he lay still. [29] A subsequent test of King for the presence of PCP in his body at the time of the arrest was negative. [30]

Unbeknownst to the police and King, the incident was captured on a camcorder by local civilian George Holliday from his nearby apartment across from Hansen Dam. The tape was roughly 12 minutes long. While the tape was presented during the trial, some clips of the incident were not released to the public. [31] In a later interview, King, who was on parole for a robbery conviction and had past convictions for assault, battery and robbery, [32] [33] said that he had not surrendered earlier because he was driving while intoxicated under the influence of alcohol, which he knew violated the terms of his parole.

The footage of King being beaten by police became an instant focus of media attention and a rallying point for activists in Los Angeles and around the United States. Coverage was extensive during the first two weeks after the incident: the Los Angeles Times published 43 articles about it, [34] The New York Times published 17 articles, [35] and the Chicago Tribune published 11 articles. [36] Eight stories appeared on ABC News, including a sixty-minute special on Primetime Live. [37]

Upon watching the tape of the beating, LAPD chief of police Daryl Gates said:

I stared at the screen in disbelief. I played the one-minute-50-second tape again. Then again and again, until I had viewed it 25 times. And still I could not believe what I was looking at. To see my officers engage in what appeared to be excessive use of force, possibly criminally excessive, to see them beat a man with their batons 56 times, to see a sergeant on the scene who did nothing to seize control, was something I never dreamed I would witness. [38]

Charges and trial Edit

The Los Angeles County District Attorney subsequently charged four police officers, including one sergeant, with assault and use of excessive force. [39] Due to the extensive media coverage of the arrest, the trial received a change of venue from Los Angeles County to Simi Valley in neighboring Ventura County. [40] The jury had no members who were entirely African-American. [41] The jury was composed of nine white Americans (three women, six men), one bi-racial man, [42] one Latin American woman, and one Asian-American woman. [43] The prosecutor, Terry White, was African-American. [44] [45]

On April 29, 1992, the seventh day of jury deliberations, the jury acquitted all four officers of assault and acquitted three of the four of using excessive force. The jury could not agree on a verdict for the fourth officer charged with using excessive force. [43] The verdicts were based in part on the first three seconds of a blurry, 13-second segment of the videotape that, according to journalist Lou Cannon, had not been aired by television news stations in their broadcasts. [46] [47]

The first two seconds of videotape, [48] contrary to the claims made by the accused officers, show King attempting to flee past Laurence Powell. During the next one minute and 19 seconds, King is beaten continuously by the officers. The officers testified that they tried to restrain King before the videotape's starting point physically, but King could throw them off physically. [49]

Afterward, the prosecution suggested that the jurors may have acquitted the officers because of becoming desensitized to the beating's violence, as the defense played the videotape repeatedly in slow motion, breaking it down until its emotional impact was lost. [50]

Outside the Simi Valley courthouse where the acquittals were delivered, county sheriff's deputies protected Stacey Koon from angry protesters on the way to his car. Movie director John Singleton, who was in the crowd at the courthouse, predicted, "By having this verdict, what these people done, they lit the fuse to a bomb." [51]

The riots began the day the verdicts were announced and peaked in intensity over the next two days. A dusk-to-dawn curfew and deployment by California National Guardsmen, U.S. troops, and Federal law enforcement personnel eventually controlled the situation. [52]

A total of 64 people died during the riots, including nine shot by law enforcement personnel and one by National Guardsmen. [53] Of those killed during the riots, 2 were Asian, 28 were Black, 19 were Latino, and 15 were White. No law enforcement officials died during the riots. [54] As many as 2,383 people were reported injured. [55] Estimates of the material losses vary between about $800 million and $1 billion. [56] Approximately 3,600 fires were set, destroying 1,100 buildings, with fire calls coming once every minute at some points. Widespread looting also occurred. Rioters targeted stores owned by Koreans and other ethnic Asians, reflecting tensions between them and the African-American communities. [57]

Many of the disturbances were concentrated in South Central Los Angeles, where the population was majority African-American and Hispanic. Fewer than half of all the riot arrests and a third of those killed during the violence were Hispanic. [58] [59]

Day 1 – Wednesday, April 29 Edit

Prior to the verdicts Edit

In the week before the Rodney King verdicts were reached, Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates set aside $1 million for possible police overtime. Even so, on the last day of the trial, two-thirds of the LAPD's patrol captains were out of town in Ventura, California, on the first day of a three-day training seminar. [60]

At 1 p.m. on April 29, Judge Stanley Weisberg announced that the jury had reached its verdict, which would be read in two hours' time. This was done to allow reporters and police and other emergency responders to prepare for the outcome, as unrest was feared if the officers were acquitted. [60] The LAPD had activated its Emergency Operations Center, which the Webster Commission described as "the doors were opened, the lights turned on and the coffee pot plugged in", but taken no other preparatory action. Specifically, the people intended to staff that Center were not gathered until 4:45 p.m. In addition, no action was taken to retain extra personnel at the LAPD's shift change at 3 p.m., as the risk of trouble was deemed low. [60]

Verdicts announced Edit

The acquittals of the four accused Los Angeles Police Department officers came at 3:15 p.m. local time. By 3:45 p.m., a crowd of more than 300 people had appeared at the Los Angeles County Courthouse protesting the verdicts.

Meanwhile, at approximately 4:15–4:20 p.m., a group of people approached the Pay-Less Liquor and Deli on Florence Avenue just west of Normandie in South Central. In an interview, a member of the group said that the group "just decided they weren't going to pay for what they were getting." The store owner's son was hit with a bottle of beer, and two other youths smashed the store's glass front door. Two officers from the 77th Street Division of the LAPD responded to this incident and, finding that the instigators had already left, completed a report. [61] [62]

Mayor Bradley speaks Edit

At 4:58 p.m., [63] Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley held a news conference to discuss the verdicts. He both expressed anger about the verdicts and appealed for calm. [50]

"Today, this jury told the world that what we all saw with our own eyes wasn't a crime. Today, that jury asked us to accept the senseless and brutal beating of a helpless man. Today, that jury said we should tolerate such conduct by those sworn to protect and serve. My friends, I am here to tell this jury, "No. No, our eyes did not deceive us. We saw what we saw what we saw was a crime. We must not endanger the reforms we have achieved by resorting to mindless acts. We must not push back progress by striking back blindly."

Assistant Los Angeles police chief Bob Vernon later said he believed Bradley's remarks incited a riot and were perhaps taken as a signal by some citizens. Vernon said that the number of police incidents rose in the hour after the mayor's press conference. [50]

Police intervention at 71st and Normandie Edit

At Florence and Halldale, two officers issued a plea for assistance in apprehending a young suspect who had thrown an object at their car and whom they were pursuing on foot. [64] Approximately two dozen officers, commanded by 77th Street Division LAPD officer Lieutenant Michael Moulin, arrived and arrested the youth, 16-year old Seandel Daniels, forcing him into the back of a car. The rough handling of the young man, a well known minor in the community, further agitated an uneasy and growing crowd, who began taunting and berating the police. [65] Among the crowd were Bart Bartholomew, a white freelance photographer for The New York Times, and Timothy Goldman, a black U.S. Air Force veteran in visit to his family, [66] [67] who began to record the events with his personal camcorder. [68] [66]

The police formed a perimeter around the arresting officers as the crowd grew more hostile, leading to further altercations and arrests (including that of Damian Williams' older brother, Mark Jackson). One member of the crowd stole the flashlight of an LAPD officer. Fearing police would resort to deadly force to repel the growing crowd, Lieutenant Moulin ordered officers out of the area altogether. Moulin later said that officers on the scene were outnumbered and unprepared to handle the situation because their riot equipment was stored at the police academy. [ citation needed ]

Hey, forget the flashlight, it's not worth it. It ain't worth it. It's not worth it. Forget the flashlight. Not worth it. Let's go.

Moulin made the call for reporting officers to retreat from the 71st and Normandie area entirely at approximately 5:50 p.m. [8] [61] They were sent to an RTD bus depot at 54th and Arlington [70] and told to await further instructions. The command post formed at this location was set up at approximately 6 p.m., but had no cell phones or computers other than those in squad cars. It had insufficient numbers of telephone lines and handheld police radios to assess and respond to the situation. [70] Finally, the site had no televisions, which meant that as live broadcasts of unrest began, command post officers could not see any of the coverage. [71]

Unrest moves at Florence and Normandie Edit

After the retreat of officers at 71st and Normandie, many proceeded one block south to the intersection of Florence and Normandie. [72] As the crowd began to turn physically dangerous, Bartholomew managed to flee the scene with the help of Goldman. Someone hit Bartholomew with a wood plank, shattering his jaw, while others pounded him and grabbed his camera. [66] Just after 6 p.m., a group of young men broke the padlock and windows to Tom's Liquor, allowing a group of more than 100 people to raid the store and loot it. [73] Concurrently, the growing number of rioters in the street began attacking civilians of non-black appearance, throwing debris at their cars, pulling them from their vehicles when they stopped, smashing window shops, or assaulting them while they walked on the sidewalks. As Goldman continued to film the scene on the ground with his camcorder, the Los Angeles News Service team of Marika Gerrard and Zoey Tur arrived in a news helicopter, broadcasting from the air. The LANS feed appeared live on numerous Los Angeles television venues. [74]

At approximately 6:15 p.m., as reports of vandalism, looting, and physical attacks continued to come in, Moulin elected to "take the information" but not respond personnel to restore order or rescue people in the area. [64] Moulin was relieved by a captain, ordered only to assess the Florence and Normandie area, and, again, not to attempt to deploy officers there. [75] Meanwhile, Tur continued to cover the events in progress live at the intersection. From overhead, Tur described the police presence at the scene around 6:30 p.m. as "none". [76]

Attack on Larry Tarvin Edit

At 6:43 p.m., a white truck driver, Larry Tarvin, drove down Florence and stopped at a red light at Normandie in a large white delivery truck. With no radio in his truck, he did not know that he was driving into a riot. [77] Tarvin was pulled from the vehicle by a group of men including Henry Watson, who proceeded to kick and beat him, before striking him unconscious with a fire extinguisher taken from his own vehicle. [78] He lay unconscious for more than a minute [79] as his truck was looted, before getting up and staggering back to his vehicle. With the help of an unknown African-American, Tarvin drove his truck out of further harm's way. [77] [71] Just before he did so, another truck, driven by Reginald Denny, entered the intersection. [77] United Press International Radio Network reporter Bob Brill, who was filming the attack on Tarvin, was hit in the head with a bottle and stomped on. [80]

Attack on Reginald Denny Edit

Reginald Denny, a white construction truck driver, was pulled from his truck and severely beaten by a group of black men who came to be known as the "L.A. Four". The attack was recorded on video from Tur's and Gerrard's news helicopter, and broadcast live on U.S. national television. Goldman captured the end of the attack and a close-up of Denny's bloody face. [81]

Four other L.A. residents came to Denny's aid, placing him back in his truck, in which one of the rescuers drove him to the hospital. Denny suffered a fractured skull and impairment of his speech and ability to walk, for which he underwent years of rehabilitative therapy. After unsuccessfully suing the City of Los Angeles, Denny moved to Arizona, where he worked as an independent boat mechanic and has mostly avoided media contact.

Attack on Fidel Lopez Edit

Around 7:40 p.m., almost an hour after Denny was rescued, another beating was filmed on videotape in that location. Fidel Lopez, a self-employed construction worker and Guatemalan immigrant mistaken by the crowd to be White American, was pulled from his GMC pickup truck and robbed of nearly $2,000. Rioters, including Damian Williams, smashed his forehead open with a car stereo [82] and one tried to slice his ear off. [83] After Lopez lost consciousness, the crowd spray-painted his chest, torso, and genitals black. [84] He was eventually rescued by black Reverend Bennie Newton, who told the rioters: "Kill him, and you have to kill me too." [83] [85] Lopez survived the attack, but it took him years to fully recover and re-establish his business. Newton and Lopez became close friends. [86]

Sunset on the first evening of the riots was at 7:36 p.m. [87] The first call reporting a fire came in soon after, at approximately 7:45 p.m. [88] Police did not return in force to Florence and Normandie until 8:30 p.m., [62] by which time the intersection was in ruins and most rioters had left to other nearby intersections and shopping centers in the area, [ citation needed ] with rioting and looting spreading across the rest of South Central Los Angeles once word spread of the situation at Florence and Normandie, as by nightfall the neighborhoods of Crenshaw, Hyde Park, Jefferson Park, West Adams, Westmont, Green Meadows, Historic South Central, Florence, Willowbrook, Florence-Graham and Watts were being looted, vandalized and set ablaze by rioters.

Numerous factors were later blamed for the severity of rioting in the 77th Street Division on the evening of April 29. These included: [71]

  • No effort made to close the busy intersection of Florence and Normandie to traffic.
  • Failure to secure gun stores in the Division (one in particular lost 1,150 guns to looting on April 29).
  • The failure to issue a citywide Tactical Alert until 6:43 p.m., which delayed the arrival of other divisions to assist the 77th.
  • The lack of any response – and in particular, a riot response – to the intersection, which emboldened rioters. Since attacks, looting, and arson were broadcast live, viewers could see that none of these actions were being stopped by police.

Parker Center Edit

As noted, after the verdicts were announced, a crowd of protesters formed at the Los Angeles police headquarters at Parker Center in Downtown Los Angeles. The crowd grew as the afternoon passed, and became violent. The police formed a skirmish line to protect the building, sometimes moving back in the headquarters as protesters advanced, attempting to set the Parker Center ablaze. [89] In the midst of this, before 6:30 p.m., police chief Daryl Gates left Parker Center, on his way to the neighborhood of Brentwood. There, as the situation in Los Angeles deteriorated, Gates attended a political fundraiser against Los Angeles City Charter Amendment F, [89] intended to "give City Hall more power over the police chief and provide more civilian review of officer misconduct". [90] The amendment would limit the power and term length of his office. [91]

The Parker Center crowd grew riotous at approximately 9 p.m., [88] eventually making their way through the Civic Center, attacking law enforcement, overturning vehicles, setting objects ablaze, vandalizing government buildings and blocking traffic on U.S. Route 101 going through other nearby districts in downtown Los Angeles looting and burning stores. Nearby Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) firefighters were shot at while trying to put out a blaze set by looters. The mayor had requested the California Army National Guard from Governor Pete Wilson the first of these units, the 670th Military Police Company, had traveled almost 300 miles (480 km) from its main armory and arrived in the afternoon to assist local police. [92] They were first deployed to a police command center, where they began handing out bulletproof vests to the firefighters after encountering the unit whose member had been shot. Later, after receiving ammunition from the L.A. Police Academy and a local gun store, the MPs deployed to hold the Martin Luther King Shopping Mall in Watts. [93]

Lake View Terrace Edit

In the Lake View Terrace district of Los Angeles, 200 [88] –400 [71] protesters gathered about 9:15 p.m. at the site where Rodney King was beaten in 1991, near the Hansen Dam Recreation Area. The group marched south on Osborne Street to the LAPD Foothill Division headquarters. [88] There they began rock throwing, shooting into the air, and setting fires. The Foothill division police used riot-breaking techniques to disperse the crowd and arrest those responsible for rock throwing and the fires [71] eventually leading to rioting and looting in the neighboring area of Pacoima and its surrounding neighborhoods in the San Fernando Valley.

Day 2 – Thursday, April 30 Edit

Mayor Bradley signed an order for a dusk-to-dawn curfew at 12:15 a.m. for the core area affected by the riots, as well as declaring a state of emergency for city of Los Angeles. At 10:15 a.m., he expanded the area under curfew. [88] By mid-morning, violence appeared widespread and unchecked as extensive looting and arson were witnessed across Los Angeles County. Rioting moved from South Central Los Angeles, going north through Central Los Angeles decimating the neighborhoods of Koreatown, Westlake, Pico-Union, Echo Park, Hancock Park, Fairfax, Mid-City and Mid-Wilshire before reaching Hollywood. The looting and fires engulfed Hollywood Boulevard, and simultaneously rioting moved West and South into the neighboring independent cities of Inglewood, Hawthorne, Gardena, Compton, Carson and Long Beach, as well as moving East from South Central Los Angeles into the cities of Huntington Park, Walnut Park, South Gate and Lynwood and Paramount. Looting and vandalism had also gone as far South as Los Angeles regions of the Harbor Area in the neighborhoods of San Pedro, Wilmington, and Harbor City.

Destruction of Koreatown Edit

Koreatown is a roughly 2.7 square-mile (7 square kilometre) neighborhood between Hoover Street and Western Avenue, and 3rd Street and Olympic Boulevard, west of MacArthur Park and east of Hancock Park/Windsor Square. [94] Korean immigrants had begun settling in the Mid-Wilshire area in the 1960s after the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. It was here that many opened successful businesses. [95]

As the riots spread, roads between Koreatown and wealthy white neighborhoods were blocked off by police and official defense lines were set up around the independent cities such as Beverly Hills and West Hollywood, as well as middle-upper class white neighborhoods West of Robertson Boulevard in Los Angeles. [96] A Korean-American resident later told reporters: "It was containment. The police cut off Koreatown traffic, while we were trapped on the other side without help. Those roads are a gateway to a richer neighborhood. It can't be denied." [97] Some Koreans later said they did not expect law enforcement to come to their aid. [98]

The lack of law enforcement forced Koreatown civilians to organize their own armed security teams, mainly composed of store owners, to defend their businesses from rioters. [99] Many had military experience from serving in the Republic of Korea Armed Forces before emigrating to the United States. [100] Open gun battles were televised, including an incident in which Korean shopkeepers armed with M1 carbines, Ruger Mini-14s, pump-action shotguns, and handguns exchanged gunfire with a group of armed looters, and forced their retreat. [101] But there were casualties, such as 18-year-old Edward Song Lee, whose body can be seen lying in the street in images taken by photojournalist Hyungwon Kang. [98]

After events in Koreatown, the 670th MP Company from National City, California were redeployed to reinforce police patrols guarding the Korean Cultural Center and the Consulate-General of South Korea in Los Angeles.

Out of the $850 million worth of damage done in L.A., half of it was on Korean-owned businesses because most of Koreatown was looted and destroyed. [102] The effects of the riots, which displaced Korean Americans and destroyed their sources of income, and the little aid given to those who suffered, still affected LA-based Koreans in 2017, as they struggled with economic hardship created by the riots. [98]

Mid-town containment Edit

The LAPD and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department (LASD) organized response began to come together by mid-day. The LAFD and Los Angeles County Fire Department (LACoFD) began to respond backed by police escort California Highway Patrol reinforcements were airlifted to the city. U.S. President George H. W. Bush spoke out against the rioting, stating that "anarchy" would not be tolerated. The California Army National Guard, which had been advised not to expect civil disturbance and had, as a result, loaned its riot equipment out to other law enforcement agencies, responded quickly by calling up about 2,000 soldiers, but could not get them to the city until nearly 24 hours had passed. They lacked equipment and had to pick it up from the JFTB (Joint Forces Training Base), Los Alamitos, California, which at the time was mainly a mothballed former airbase. [103]

Air traffic control procedures at Los Angeles International Airport were modified, with all departures and arrivals routed to and from the west, over the Pacific Ocean, avoiding overflights of neighborhoods affected by the rioting.

Bill Cosby spoke on the local television station KNBC and asked people to stop the rioting and watch the final episode of his The Cosby Show. [104] [105] [106] The U.S. Justice Department announced it would resume federal investigation of the Rodney King beating as a violation of federal civil rights law. [88]

Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda, who criticized rioters for burning down their own neighborhoods, received death threats and was taken to the Los Angeles Police Academy for protection.

Day 3 – Friday, May 1 Edit

In the early morning hours of Friday, May 1, the major rioting was stopped. [107] Rodney King gave an impromptu news conference in front of his lawyer's office, tearfully saying, "People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along?" [108] [109] That morning, at 1:00 am, Governor Wilson had requested federal assistance. Upon request, Bush invoked the Insurrection Act with Executive Order 12804, federalizing the California Army National Guard and authorizing federal troops and federal law enforcement officers to help restore law and order. [110] With Bush's authority, the Pentagon activated Operation Garden Plot, placing the California Army National Guard and federal troops under the newly formed Joint Task Force Los Angeles (JTF-LA). The deployment of federal troops was not ready until Saturday, by which time the rioting and looting were under control.

Meanwhile, the 40th Infantry Division (doubled to 4,000 troops) of the California Army National Guard continued to move into the city in Humvees eventually 10,000 Army National Guard troops were activated. That same day, 1,000 federal tactical officers from different agencies across California were dispatched to L.A. to protect federal facilities and assist local police. This was the first federal law enforcement response to a civil disorder in any U.S. city since the Ole Miss riot of 1962. Later that evening, Bush addressed the country, denouncing "random terror and lawlessness". He summarized his discussions with Mayor Bradley and Governor Wilson, and outlined the federal assistance he was making available to local authorities. Citing the "urgent need to restore order", he warned that the "brutality of a mob" would not be tolerated, and he would "use whatever force is necessary". He referred to the Rodney King case, describing talking to his own grandchildren and noting the actions of "good and decent policemen" as well as civil rights leaders. He said he had directed the Justice Department to investigate the King case, and that "grand jury action is underway today", and justice would prevail. The Post Office announced that it was unsafe for their couriers to deliver mail. The public were instructed to pick up their mail at the main Post Office. The lines were approximately 40 blocks long, and the California National Guard were diverted to that location to ensure peace. [111]

By this point, many entertainment and sports events were postponed or canceled. The Los Angeles Lakers hosted the Portland Trail Blazers in an NBA playoff basketball game on the night the rioting started. The following game was still postponed until Sunday and moved to Las Vegas. The Los Angeles Clippers moved a playoff game against the Utah Jazz to nearby Anaheim. In baseball, the Los Angeles Dodgers postponed games for four straight days from Thursday to Sunday, including a whole three-game series against the Montreal Expos all were made up as part of doubleheaders in July. In San Francisco, a city curfew due to unrest forced the postponement of a May 1, San Francisco Giants home game against the Philadelphia Phillies. [112]

The horse racing venues Hollywood Park Racetrack and Los Alamitos Race Course were also shut down. L.A. Fiesta Broadway, a major event in the Latino community, was canceled. In music, Van Halen canceled two concert shows in Inglewood on Saturday and Sunday. Metallica and Guns N' Roses were forced to postpone and relocate their concert to the Rose Bowl as the LA Coliseum and its surrounding neighborhood were still damaged. Michael Bolton canceled his scheduled performance at the Hollywood Bowl Sunday. The World Wrestling Federation canceled events on Friday and Saturday in the cities of Long Beach and Fresno. [113] By the end of Friday night, the riots were completely quelled. [107]

Day 4 – Saturday, May 2 Edit

On the fourth day, 3,500 federal troops — 2,000 soldiers of the 7th Infantry Division from Fort Ord and 1,500 Marines of the 1st Marine Division from Camp Pendleton — arrived to reinforce the National Guardsmen already in the city. The Marine Corps contingent included the 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, commanded by John F. Kelly. It was the first significant military occupation of Los Angeles by federal troops since the 1894 Pullman Strike, [114] and also the first federal military intervention in an American city to quell a civil disorder since the 1968 King assassination riots, and the first deadliest modern unrest since the 1980 Miami riots at the time, only 12 years earlier.

These federal military forces took 24 hours to deploy to Huntington Park, about the same time it took for the National Guardsmen. [ citation needed ] This brought total troop strength to 13,500, making L.A. the largest military occupation of any U.S. city since the 1968 Washington, D.C. riots. Federal troops joined National Guardsmen to support local police in restoring order directly the combined force contributed significantly to preventing violence. [110] With most of the violence under control, 30,000 people attended an 11 a.m. peace rally in Koreatown to support local merchants and racial healing. [88]

Day 5 – Sunday, May 3 Edit

Mayor Bradley assured the public that the crisis was, more or less, under control as areas became quiet. [115] Later that night, Army National Guardsmen shot and killed a motorist who tried to run them over at a barrier. [116]

In another incident, the LAPD and Marines intervened in a domestic dispute in Compton, in which the suspect held his wife and children hostage. As the officers approached, the suspect fired two shotgun rounds through the door, injuring some of the officers. One of the officers yelled to the Marines, "Cover me," as per law enforcement training to be prepared to fire if necessary. However, per their military training, the Marines interpreted the wording as providing cover by establishing a base of firepower, resulting in a total of 200 rounds being sprayed into the house. Remarkably, neither the suspect nor the woman and children inside the house were harmed. [117]

Aftermath Edit

Although Mayor Bradley lifted the curfew, signaling the riots' official end, sporadic violence and crime continued for a few days afterward. Schools, banks, and businesses reopened. Federal troops did not stand down until May 9. The Army National Guard remained until May 14. Some National Guardsmen remained as late as May 27. [118]

Korean Americans Edit

Many Korean Americans in Los Angeles refer to the event as 'Sa-I-Gu', meaning "four-two-nine" in the Korean language (4.29), in reference to April 29, 1992, which was the day the riots started. Over 2,300 mom-and-pop shops run by Korean business owners were damaged through ransacking and looting during the riots, sustaining close to $400 million in damages. [119]

During the riots, Korean Americans received very little aid or protection from police authorities, due to their low social status and language barriers. [120] Many Koreans rushed to Koreatown after Korean-language radio stations called for volunteers to guard against rioters. Many were armed, with a variety of improvised weapons, handguns, shotguns, and semi-automatic rifles. [121]

David Joo, a gun store manager, said, "I want to make it clear that we didn't open fire first. At that time, four police cars were there. Somebody started to shoot at us. The LAPD ran away in half a second. I never saw such a fast escape. I was pretty disappointed." Carl Rhyu, also a participant in the Koreans' armed response, said, "If it was your own business and your own property, would you be willing to trust it to someone else? We are glad the National Guard is here. They're good backup. But when our shops were burning we called the police every five minutes no response." [122] At a shopping center several miles north of Koreatown, Jay Rhee, who said he and others fired five hundred shots into the ground and air, said, "We have lost our faith in the police. Where were you when we needed you?" Koreatown was isolated from South Central Los Angeles, yet it was the most severely damaged in the riots despite this. [120]

Television coverage of two Korean merchants firing pistols repeatedly at roving looters was widely seen and controversial. The New York Times said: "that the image seemed to speak of race war, and of vigilantes taking the law into their own hands." [122] The merchants were reacting to the shooting of Mr. Park's wife and her sister by looters who had converged on the shopping center where the shops were located. [122]

The riots have been considered a major turning point in the development of a distinct Korean American identity and community. Korean Americans responded in various ways, including the development of new ethnic agendas and organization and increased political activism.

Preparations Edit

One of the largest armed camps in Los Angeles's Koreatown was at the California Market. On the first night after the officers' verdicts were returned, Richard Rhee, the market owner, set up camp in the parking lot with about 20 armed employees. [123] One year after the riots, fewer than one in four damaged or destroyed businesses had reopened, according to the survey conducted by the Korean-American Inter-Agency Council. [124] According to a Los Angeles Times survey conducted eleven months after the riots, almost 40 percent of Korean Americans said they were thinking of leaving Los Angeles. [125]

Before a verdict was issued in the new 1993 Rodney King federal civil rights trial against the four officers, Korean shop owners prepared for the worst. Gun sales went up, many to people of Korean descent some merchants at flea markets removed merchandise from shelves, and they fortified storefronts with extra Plexiglas and bars. Throughout the region, merchants readied to defend themselves. [124] College student Elizabeth Hwang spoke of the attacks on her parents' convenience store in 1992. She said at the time of the 1993 trial, they had been armed with a Glock 17 pistol, a Beretta, and a shotgun, and they planned to barricade themselves in their store to fight off looters. [124]

Some Koreans formed armed militia groups following the 1992 riots. Speaking just prior to the 1993 verdict, Yong Kim, leader of the Korea Young Adult Team of Los Angeles, which purchased five AK-47s, said "We made a mistake last year. This time we won't. I don't know why Koreans are always a special target for African-Americans, but if they are going to attack our community, then we are going to pay them back." [124]

Aftermath Edit

Korean Americans not only faced physical damage to their stores and community surroundings, but they also suffered emotional, psychological, and economic despair. About 2,300 Korean-owned stores in southern California were looted or burned, making up 45 percent of all damages caused by the riot. According to the Asian and Pacific American Counseling and Prevention Center, 730 Koreans were treated for post-traumatic stress disorder, which included insomnia and a sense of helplessness and muscle pain. In reaction, many Korean Americans worked to create political and social empowerment. [120]

As a result of the L.A. riots, Korean Americans formed activist organizations such as the Association of Korean-American Victims. They built collaborative links with other ethnic groups through groups like the Korean American Coalition. [126] A week after the riots, in the largest Asian-American protest ever held in a city, about 30,000 mostly-Korean and Korean-American marchers walked the streets of L.A. Koreatown, calling for peace and denouncing police violence. This cultural movement was devoted to the protection of Koreans' political rights, ethnic heritage, and political representation. New leaders arose within the community, and second-generation children spoke on behalf of the community. Korean Americans began to have different occupation goals, from storeowners to political leaders. Korean Americans worked to gain governmental aid to rebuild their damaged neighborhoods. Countless community and advocacy groups have been established to further fuel Korean political representation and understanding. After suffering from isolation, they worked to gain new understanding and connections. The representative voice that was created remains present in South Central Los Angeles. The riots contributed to the shaping of identities, perceptions and political and social representation. [120]

Edward Taehan Chang, a professor of ethnic studies and founding director of the Young Oak Kim Center for Korean American Studies at the University of California, Riverside, has identified the LA riots as a turning point for the development of a Korean American identity separate from that of Korean immigrants and that was more politically active. "What was an immigrant Korean identity began to shift. The Korean-American identity was born . They learned a valuable lesson that we have to become much more engaged and politically involved and that political empowerment is very much part of the Korean-American future." [ citation needed ]

According to Edward Park, the 1992 violence stimulated a new wave of political activism among Korean-Americans, but it also split them into two camps. [127] [128] The liberals sought to unite with other minorities in Los Angeles to fight against racial oppression and scapegoating. The conservatives emphasized law and order and generally favored the economic and social policies of the Republican Party. The conservatives tended to emphasize the differences between Koreans and other minorities, specifically African Americans. [129] [130]

Latinos Edit

According to a report prepared in 1993 by the Latinos Futures Research Group for the Latino Coalition for a New Los Angeles, one third of those who were killed and one half of those who were arrested in the riots were Latino moreover, between 20% and 40% of the businesses that were looted were owned by Latino individuals. [131] Hispanics were considered a minority despite their increasing numbers, and thus lacked political support and were poorly represented. Their lack of representation, both socially and politically, silenced their acknowledgment of participation within the area. Many of the individuals of the area were new immigrants they often did not speak English. [132]

Gloria Alvarez claims the riots did not create social distance between Hispanics and black people but rather united them. Although the riots were perceived in different aspects, Alvarez argues it brought a greater sense of understanding between Hispanics and blacks. Even though Hispanics now heavily populate the once predominantly black area, such transition has improved over time. Building a stronger and more understanding community could help prevent social chaos arising between the two groups. [133] Although hate crimes and widespread violence between the two groups continue to be a problem in the L.A. area. [134] However only minor rioting, vandalism and incidents occurred in Hispanic/Latino neighborhoods like Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles and the heavily populated Hispanic neighborhoods of Northeast Los Angeles.

Almost as soon as the disturbances broke out in South Central, local television news cameras were on the scene to record the events as they happened. [135] Television coverage of the riots was near-continuous, starting with the beating of motorists at the intersection of Florence and Normandie broadcast live by television news pilot and reporter Zoey Tur and her camera operator Marika Gerrard. [136] [137]

In part because of extensive media coverage of the Los Angeles riots, smaller but similar riots and other anti-police actions took place in other cities throughout the United States. [138] [139] The Emergency Broadcast System was also utilized during the rioting. [140]

Coverage came from the American media, which gave an extensive portrayal of the riots, Korean-American media, and Korea itself. One of the most prominent sources for news about the coverage came from the Korea Times, a Korean-American newspaper run entirely independently from American newspapers, such as The New York Times.

Korean-American newspapers Edit

Articles presented from the Korean-American side stated that "Looters apparently targeted Korean American merchants during the LA. Riots, according to the FBI official who directed federal law enforcement efforts during the disturbance." [141] The Korean American newspaper focused on the 1992 riots with Korean Americans being the center of the violence. Initial articles from late April and early May were about the stories depicting victims' lives and the LA Korean Community's damage. Interviews with Koreatown merchants, such as Chung Lee, drew sympathy from its readers. Lee, the example of a model merchant, watched, helplessly, as his store was burned down. "I worked hard for that store. Now I have nothing," said Lee. [141]

Mainstream media Edit

While several articles included the minorities involved when citing damages or naming victims, few actually incorporated them as a significant part of the struggle. One story framed the race riots as occurring at a "time when the wrath of blacks was focused on whites." [142] They acknowledged the fact that racism and stereotyped views contributed to the riots articles in American newspapers portrayed the LA riots as an incident that erupted between black and white people who were struggling to coexist with each other, rather than include all of the minority groups that were involved in the riots. [143]

On Nightline, Ted Koppel initially only interviewed Black leaders about the Black/Korean conflict, [144] and they shared detrimental opinions about Korean-Americans. [145]

Activist Guy Aoki became frustrated with early coverage using Black/White framing, both vilifying the Korean-American community and ignoring their suffering. [145]

Some felt too much emphasis was placed on Korean-American suffering. As filmmaker Dai Sil Kim-Gibson, who created the 1993 documentary "Sa-I-Gu", described, "black-Korean conflict was one symptom, but it was certainly not the cause of that riot. The cause of that riot was black-white conflict that existed in this country from the establishment of this country." [146]

After the riots subsided, an inquiry was commissioned by the city Police Commission, led by William H. Webster (special advisor), and Hubert Williams (deputy special advisor, president of the Police Foundation). [147] The findings of the inquiry, The City in Crisis: A Report by the Special Advisor to the Board of Police Commissioners on the Civil Disorder in Los Angeles, also colloquially known as the Webster Report or Webster Commission, was released on October 21, 1992. [148] [ relevant? ]

LAPD chief of police Daryl Gates, who had seen his successor Willie L. Williams named by the Police Commission days before the riots, [149] was forced to resign on June 28, 1992. [150] Some areas of the city saw temporary truces between the rival Crips and Bloods gangs, as well as between rival Latino gangs, which fueled speculation among LAPD officers that the truce was going to be used to unite them against the department. [151]

Post-riot commentary Edit

Scholars and writers Edit

In addition to the catalyst of the verdicts in the excessive force trial, various other factors have been cited as causes of the unrest. In the years preceding the riots, several other highly controversial incidents involving police brutality or other perceived injustices against minorities had been criticized by activists and investigated by media. Thirteen days after the beating of King was widely broadcast, blacks were outraged when Latasha Harlins, a 15-year-old black girl, was mortally shot in the back of the head by a Korean-American shopkeeper, Soon Ja Du, in the course of an assumed shoplifting incident and brief physical altercation. Though the jury recommended a sentence of 16 years, Judge Joyce Karlin changed the sentence to just five years of probation and 400 hours of community service–and no jail time. [152]

Rioters targeted Korean-American shops in their areas, as there had been considerable tension between the two communities. Such sources as Newsweek and Time suggested that blacks thought Korean-American merchants were "taking money out of their community", that they were racist as they refused to hire blacks, and often treated them without respect. There were cultural and language differences, as some shop owners were immigrants. [153] [154]

There were other factors for social tensions: high rates of poverty and unemployment among the residents of South Central Los Angeles, which had been deeply affected by the nationwide recession. [155] [156] Articles in the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times linked the economic deterioration of South Central to the declining living conditions of the residents, and reported that local resentments about these conditions helped to fuel the riots. [157] [158] [159] [160] [161] Other scholars compare these riots to those in Detroit in the 1920s, when whites rioted against blacks. [ citation needed ] But instead of African-Americans as victims, the race riots "represent backlash violence in response to recent Latino and Asian immigration into African-American neighborhoods." [162]

Social commentator Mike Davis points to the growing economic disparity in Los Angeles, caused by corporate restructuring and government deregulation, with inner city residents bearing the brunt of such changes such conditions engendered a widespread feeling of frustration and powerlessness in the urban populace, who reacted to the King verdicts with a violent expression of collective public protest. [163] [164] To Davis and other writers, the tensions between African-Americans and Korean-Americans had as much to do with the economic competition between the two groups caused by wider market forces as with cultural misunderstandings and black anger about the killing of Latasha Harlins. [59]

Davis writes that the 1992 Los Angeles Riots are still remembered over 20 years later, and that not many changes have yet occurred conditions of economic inequality, lack of jobs available for black and Latino youth, and civil liberty violations by law enforcement have remained largely unaddressed years later. Davis describes this as a "conspiracy of silence", especially in view of statements made by the Los Angeles Police Department that they would make reforms coming to little fruition. Davis argues that the rioting was different than in the 1965 Watts Riots, which had been more unified among all minorities living in Watts and South Central the 1992 riots, on the other hand, were characterized by divided uproars that defied description of a simple uprising of black against white, and involved the destruction and looting of many businesses owned by racial minorities. [165]

A Special Committee of the California Legislature also studied the riots, producing a report entitled To Rebuild is Not Enough. [166] The Committee concluded that the inner city conditions of poverty, racial segregation, lack of educational and employment opportunities, police abuse and unequal consumer services created the underlying causes of the riots. It also noted that the decline of industrial jobs in the American economy and the growing ethnic diversity of Los Angeles had contributed to urban problems. Another official report, The City in Crisis, was initiated by the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners it made many of the same observations as the Assembly Special Committee about the growth of popular urban dissatisfaction. [167] In their study, Farrell and Johnson found similar factors, including the diversification of the L.A. population, tension between the successful Korean businesses and other minorities, and excessive force on minorities by LAPD and the effect of laissez-faire business on urban employment opportunities. [168]

Rioters were believed to have been motivated by racial tensions but these are considered one of numerous factors. [169] Urban sociologist Joel Kotkin said, "This wasn't a race riot, it was a class riot." [153] Many ethnic groups participated in rioting, not only African Americans. Newsweek reported that "Hispanics and even some whites men, women and children mingled with African-Americans." [153] "When residents who lived near Florence and Normandie were asked why they believed riots had occurred in their neighborhoods, they responded of the perceived racist attitudes they had felt throughout their lifetime and empathized with the bitterness the rioters felt. [170] Residents who had respectable jobs, homes, and material items still felt like second class citizens. [170] A poll by Newsweek asked whether black people charged with crimes were treated more harshly or more leniently than other ethnicities 75% of black people responded "more harshly", versus 46% of white people. [153]

In his public statements during the riots, Jesse Jackson, civil rights leader, sympathized with African-Americans' anger about the verdicts in the King trial and noted root causes of the disturbances. He repeatedly emphasized the continuing patterns of racism, police brutality, and economic despair suffered by inner-city residents. [171] [172]

Several prominent writers expressed a similar "culture of poverty" argument. Writers in Newsweek, for example, drew a distinction between the actions of the rioters in 1992 with those of the urban upheavals in the 1960s, arguing that "[w]here the looting at Watts had been desperate, angry, mean, the mood this time was closer to a manic fiesta, a TV game show with every looter a winner." [153]

According to a 2019 study in the American Political Science Review found that the riots caused a liberal shift, both in the short-term and long-term, politically. [173]

Politicians Edit

Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton said that the violence resulted from the breakdown of economic opportunities and social institutions in the inner city. He also berated both major political parties for failing to address urban issues, especially the Republican Administration for its presiding over "more than a decade of urban decay" generated by their spending cuts. [174] He also maintained that the King verdicts could not be avenged by the "savage behavior" of "lawless vandals" and stated that people "are looting because . [t]hey do not share our values, and their children are growing up in a culture alien from ours, without family, without neighborhood, without church, without support." [174] While Los Angeles was mostly unaffected by the urban decay the other metropolitan areas of the nation faced since the 1960s, racial tensions had been present since the late 1970s, becoming increasingly violent as the 1980s progressed. [ citation needed ]

Democrat Maxine Waters, the African-American Congressional representative of South Central Los Angeles, said that the events in Los Angeles constituted a "rebellion" or "insurrection," caused by the underlying reality of poverty and despair existing in the inner city. This state of affairs, she asserted, was brought about by a government that had all but abandoned the poor and failed to help compensate for the loss of local jobs and the institutional discrimination encountered by racial minorities, especially at the police's hands and financial institutions. [175] [176]

Conversely, President Bush argued that the unrest was "purely criminal." Though he acknowledged that the King verdicts were plainly unjust, he said that "we simply cannot condone violence as a way of changing the system . Mob brutality, the total loss of respect for human life was sickeningly sad . What we saw last night and the night before in Los Angeles is not about civil rights. It's not about the great cause of equality that all Americans must uphold. It's not a message of protest. It's been the brutality of a mob, pure and simple." [177]

Vice President Dan Quayle blamed the violence on a "Poverty of Values" – "I believe the lawless social anarchy which we saw is directly related to the breakdown of family structure, personal responsibility and social order in too many areas of our society" [178] Similarly, the White House Press Secretary, Marlin Fitzwater, alleged that "many of the root problems that have resulted in inner-city difficulties were started in the 1960s and 1970s and . they have failed . [N]ow we are paying the price." [179]

Writers for former Congressman Ron Paul framed the riots in similar terms in the June 1992 edition of the Ron Paul Political Newsletter, billed as a special issue focusing on "racial terrorism." [180] "Order was only restored in LA", the newsletter read, "when it came time for the blacks to pick up their welfare checks three days after rioting began . What if the checks had never arrived? No doubt, the blacks would have fully privatized the welfare state through continued looting. But they were paid off, and the violence subsided." [181]

Rodney King Edit

In the aftermath of the riots, public pressure mounted for a retrial of the officers. Federal charges of civil rights violations were brought against them. As the first anniversary of the acquittal neared, the city tensely awaited the federal jury's decision.

The decision was read in a court session on Saturday, April 17, 1993 at 7 a.m. Officer Laurence Powell and Sergeant Stacey Koon were found guilty, while officers Theodore Briseno and Timothy Wind were acquitted. Mindful of criticism of sensationalist reporting after the first trial and during the riots, media outlets opted for more sober coverage. [182] Police were fully mobilized with officers on 12 hour shifts, convoy patrols, scout helicopters, street barricades, tactical command centers, and support from the Army National Guard, the active duty Army and the Marines. [183] [184]

All four of the officers left or were fired from the LAPD. Briseno left the LAPD after being acquitted on both state and federal charges. Wind, who was also twice acquitted, was fired after the appointment of Willie L. Williams as Chief of Police. The Los Angeles Police Commission declined to renew Williams's contract, citing failure to fulfill his mandate to create meaningful change in the department. [185]

Susan Clemmer, an officer who gave crucial testimony for the defense during the officers' first trial, committed suicide in July 2009 in the lobby of a Los Angeles Sheriff's Station. She had ridden in the ambulance with King and testified that he was laughing and spat blood on her uniform. She had remained in law enforcement and was a Sheriff's Detective at the time of her death. [186] [187]

Rodney King was awarded $3.8 million in damages from the City of Los Angeles. He invested most of this money in founding a hip-hop record label, "Straight Alta-Pazz Records." The venture was unable to garner success and soon folded. King was later arrested at least eleven times on a variety of charges, including domestic abuse and hit and run. [56] [188] King and his family moved from Los Angeles to San Bernardino County's Rialto suburb in an attempt to escape the fame and notoriety and begin a new life.

King and his family later returned to Los Angeles, where they ran a family-owned construction company. Until his death on June 17, 2012, King rarely discussed the night of his beating by police or its aftermath, preferring to remain out of the spotlight. King died of an accidental drowning authorities said that he had alcohol and drugs in his body. Renee Campbell, his most recent attorney, described King as " . simply a very nice man caught in a very unfortunate situation." [189]

Arrests Edit

On May 3, 1992, in view large number of persons arrested during the riots, the California Supreme Court extended the deadline to charge defendants from 48 hours to 96 hours. That day, 6,345 people were arrested. [17] Nearly one third of the rioters arrested were released because police officers were unable to identify individuals in the sheer volume of the crowd. In one case, officers arrested around 40 people stealing from one store while they were identifying them, a group of another 12 looters were brought in. With the groups mingled, charges could not be brought against individuals for stealing from specific stores, and the police had to release them all. [190]

In the weeks after the rioting, more than 11,000 people were arrested. [191] Many of the looters in black communities were turned in by their neighbors, who were angry about the destruction of businesses who employed locals and provided basic needs such as groceries. Many of the looters, fearful of prosecution by law enforcement and condemnation from their neighbors, ended up placing looted items curbside in other neighborhoods to get rid of them.

Rebuilding Los Angeles Edit

After three days of arson and looting some 3,767 buildings were affected and damaged. [192] [193] and property damage was estimated at more than $1 billion. [52] [194] [195] Donations were given to help with food and medicine. The office of State Senator Diane E. Watson provided shovels and brooms to volunteers from all over the community who helped clean. Thirteen thousand police and military personnel were on patrol, protecting intact gas stations and food stores they reopened along with other businesses areas such as the Universal Studios tour, dance halls, and bars. Many organizations stepped forward to rebuild Los Angeles South Central's Operation Hope and Koreatown's Saigu and KCCD (Korean Churches for Community Development), all raised millions to repair destruction and improve economic development. [196] Singer Michael Jackson "donated $1.25 million to start a health counseling service for inner-city kids". [197] President George H.W. Bush signed a declaration of disaster it activated Federal relief efforts for the victims of looting and arson, which included grants and low-cost loans to cover their property losses. [192] The Rebuild LA program promised $6 billion in private investment to create 74,000 jobs. [195] [198]

The majority of the local stores were never rebuilt. [199] Store owners had difficulty getting loans myths about the city or at least certain neighborhoods of it arose discouraging investment and preventing growth of employment. [200] Few of the rebuilding plans were implemented, and business investors and some community members rejected South L.A. [195] [199] [201]

Residential life Edit

Many Los Angeles residents bought weapons for self-defense against further violence. The 10-day waiting period in California law stymied those who wanted to purchase firearms while the riot was going on. [202]

In a survey of local residents in 2010, 77 percent felt that the economic situation in Los Angeles had significantly worsened since 1992. [196] From 1992 to 2007, the black population dropped by 123,000, while the Latino population grew more than 450,000. [199] According to the Los Angeles police statistics, violent crime fell by 76 percent between 1992 and 2010, which was a period of declining crime across the country. It was accompanied by lessening tensions between racial groups. [203] In 2012, sixty percent of residents reported racial tension had improved in the past 20 years, and the majority said gang activity had also decreased. [204]


The Fire Last Time: LIFE in Watts, 1966

The August 1965 Watts Riots (or Watts Rebellion, depending on one’s perspective and politics), were among the bloodiest, costliest and most analyzed uprisings of the notoriously unsettled mid-1960s. Ostensibly sparked by an aggressive traffic stop of a black motorist by white cops, the six-day upheaval resulted in 34 deaths, more than 3,400 arrests and tens of millions of dollars in property damage (back when a million bucks still meant something).

A year after the flames were put out and the smoke cleared from the southern California sky, LIFE revisited the scene of the devastation for a “special section” in its July 15, 1966, issue that the magazine called “Watts: Still Seething.” A good part of that special section featured a series of color photos made by Bill Ray on the streets of Watts: pictures of stylish, even dapper, young men making and hurling Molotov cocktails of children at play in torched streets and rubble-strewn lots of wary police and warier residents of a community struggling to save itself from drugs, gangs, guns, idleness and an enduring, corrosive despair.

In that July 1966 issue, LIFE introduced Ray’s photographs, and Watts itself, in a tone that left no doubt that, whatever else might have happened in the months since the streets were on fire, the future of the district was hardly certain, and the rage that fueled the conflagration had hardly abated:

Before last August the rest of Los Angeles had never heard of Watts. Today, a rock thrown through a Los Angeles store window brings the fearful question: “Is this the start of the next one?” It brings the three armed camps in Los Angeles the police, white civilians, the Negroes face to face for a tense flickering moment. . . .
Whites still rush to gun stores each time a new incident hits the papers. A Beverly Hills sporting goods shop has been sold out of 9mm automatics for months, and the waiting list for pistols runs several pages.
Last week a Negro showed a reporter a .45 caliber submachine gun. “There were 99 more in this shipment,” he said, “and they’re spread around to 99 guys with cars.”
“We know it don’t do no good to burn Watts again,” a young Negro says. “Maybe next time we go up to Beverly Hills.”
Watts seethes with resentments. There is anger toward the paternalism of many job programs and the neglect of Watts needs. There is no public hospital within eight miles and last month Los Angeles voters rejected a proposed $12.3 million bond issue to construct one. When a 6-month-old baby died not long ago because of inadequate medical facilities, the mother’s grief was echoed by a crowd’s outrage. “If it was your baby,” said a Negro confronting a white, “you’d have an ambulance in five minutes.”
Unemployment and public assistance figures invite disbelief in prosperous California. In Watts 24% of the residents were on some form of relief a year ago and that percentage still stands. In Los Angeles the figure is 5%.
[It] takes longer to build a society than to burn one, and fear will be a companion along the way to improvements. “I had started to say it is a beautiful day,” Police Inspector John Powers said, looking out a window, “but beautiful days bring people out and that makes me wish we had rain and winter year-round.”

For his part, Bill Ray, a staff photographer for LIFE from the mid-1960s until the magazine’s demise in the early 1970s, recalled the Watts assignment clearly, and fondly:

“In the mid-nineteen-sixties [Ray told LIFE.com], I shot two major assignments for LIFE in southern California, one after the other, that involved working with young men who were volatile and dangerous. One group was the Hells Angels of San Bernardino the early, hard-core San Berdoo chapter of the gang and the other were the young men who had taken part in the Watts riots the year before.
I did not try to dress like them, act like them or pretend to be tough. I showed great interest in them, and treated them with respect. The main thing was to convince them that I had no connection with the police. The thing that surprised me the most was that, in both cases, as I spent more time with them and got to know them better, I got to like and respect many of them quite a lot. There was a humanity there that we all have inside us. Meeting and photographing different kinds of people has always been the most exciting part of my job. I still love it.
Two big differences in the assignments, though, was that I shot the Hells Angels in black and white which was perfect for their gritty world and “Watts: A Year Later” was in color. Also perfect, because Watts had a lot of color, on the walls, the graffiti, the way people dressed and, of course, my group of bombers who liked to practice making and throwing Molotov cocktails [see slides 17, 18 and 19 in gallery].
Those two assignments documented two utterly marginalized worlds that few people ever get to see up close. There was no job on earth as good as being a LIFE photographer.”

The words painted on the grocery store alerted rioters that the stored was African-American owned.

Bill Ray/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Watts, Los Angeles, 1966.

Bill Ray/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Young men hung out near Simon Rodia’s Watts Towers, 1966.

Bill Ray/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Watts, Los Angeles, 1966.

Bill Ray/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Young men near Simon Rodia’s Watts Towers, 1966.

Bill Ray/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Watts, Los Angeles, 1966.

Bill Ray/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

William Solomon (right, in his home in Watts) commanded a big Watts street gang, which he openly admitted took an active part in the riot. A champion hurdler in high school, he had no job and was on probation for assault. With two followers shown with him, he later helped at a neighborhood association and used his influence to keep order there and, by his interest, give its program a certain prestige in the streets.”

Bill Ray/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Watts, Los Angeles, 1966.

Bill Ray/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

The Fire Last Time: Life in Watts, 1966

Bill Ray/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Watts, Los Angeles, 1966.

Bill Ray/ Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Watts, Los Angeles, 1966.

Bill Ray/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Watts, Los Angeles, 1966.

Bill Ray/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Watts, Los Angeles, 1966.

Bill Ray/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Watts, Los Angeles, 1966.

Bill Ray/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Booker Griffin (yellow shirt) moved in on an argument between students and police who found the youths carrying heavy boards and suspected a gang fight. He calmed both sides.

Bill Ray/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Making Molotov cocktails, Watts, 1966.

Bill Ray/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Molotov cocktails in Watts, 1966.

Bill Ray/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Molotov cocktails in Watts, 1966.

Bill Ray/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Molotov cocktails in Watts, 1966.

Bill Ray/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

LaRoi Drew Ali refused to join any group, but viewed Christianity as a device to keep African-Americans down. “Even if somebody did rise up on Easter,” he said, “it would just be another white man to kick us.”

Bill Ray/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Watts, Los Angeles, 1966.

Bill Ray/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Watts, Los Angeles, 1966.

Bill Ray/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

The Fire Last Time: Life in Watts, 1966

Bill Ray/Life Pictures/Shutterstock


Watts Riot (August 1965)

The Watts Riot, also known as the Watts Rebellion, occurred in Los Angeles, California from August 11 to August 15, 1965. The riot took 34 lives and injured 1,032 people. There were nearly 4,000 arrests and $40 million in property damage in what was until that point, the largest urban rebellion in the United States in the 1960s.

Although the riot began on August 11, 1965, its roots go back at least two decades. Following World War II, over 500,000 African Americans migrated to West Coast cities in hopes of escaping racism and discrimination. However they found both in the west. For many black Los Angeles, California residents who lived in Watts, their isolation in that community was evidence that racial equality remained a distant goal as they experienced housing, education, employment, and political discrimination. These racial injustices caused Watts’ African American population to explode on August 11, 1965 in what would become the Watts Rebellion.

The rebellion began on August 11th when the Los Angeles Highway Patrol stopped black Watts resident Marquette Frye and his brother, alleging that they were speeding. Back-up was called from the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) as a crowd of African Americans gathered to watch the scene. Since the incident was close to Frye’s home, his mother emerged to find her son resisting arrest. Fearful that his arrest may ignite a riot, one LAPD officer drew his firearm. Catching a glimpse of the gun, Mrs. Frye jumped onto the officer’s back, causing the crowd to begin cheering. Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officers arrested all three of the Fryes. Enraged by the family’s arrests, Watts’ residents protested as the police cars drove away. Less than an hour later, black Angelenos took to the streets.

The five day revolt which involved some 30,000 people served as stark testimony to the inequality and poverty that dominated the lives of thousands of Watts’s residents. Many of those engaged in the uprising looted items from local groceries and clothing stores, acquiring what they wanted and needed but often could not afford. Others battled the LAPD which they held immediately responsible for their poverty and alienation.

By August 15 the riot ended when 14,000 National Guard troops arrived and patrolled the streets. The following day most African Americans retired to their homes. In spite of the protest, the Watts Rebellion did not significantly improve the lives of the community’s black population. While the revolt inspired the federal government to implement programs to address unemployment, education, healthcare, and housing under Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on Poverty,” much of the money allocated for these programs was eventually absorbed by the Vietnam War.

Today most of the population of Watts is Latino with many residents from the Central American countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Although the population has changed, many of the issues of poverty, alienation, and discrimination still plague the community today.


10 Things You Need To Know About The Watts Riots Of 1965

The Watts Riots took place in the predominantly-Black, Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles from August 11 to 16, 1965 to protest police brutality. Rifle-toting deputy sheriffs conduct a sweep through Will Rogers Park in the Watts section of Los Angeles, Aug. 12, 1968. (AP Photo)

The Watts Riots, which is also known as the Watts Rebellion, took place in the predominantly Black Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles from August 11 to 16, 1965. Thirty-four people died and there was more than $40 million in property damage . It was Los Angeles’ worst unrest until the Rodney King riots of 1992.

What Happened

It was the evening of August 11, 1965. Police pulled over 21-year-old African-American driver Marquette Frye, who happened to be on parole for robbery. He was pulled over, police said, for reckless driving. Frye was driving his mother’s 1955 Buick. The police officer administered a field sobriety test, which Frya failed. They then placed Frye under arrest. Marquette’s brother, Ronald, who had been a passenger in the car, walked to their nearby house and brought their mother, Rena Price, back with him to the scene of the arrest.

An argument broke out between the family and the police. It escalated into a fight with the police. More and more people from the community got involved and it was believed police had hurt a pregnant woman. Outrage spread in the community. Six days of civil unrest followed.

Listen to GHOGH with Jamarlin Martin | Episode 69: Jamarlin Martin Jamarlin goes solo to unpack the question: Was Barack Obama the first political anti-Christ to rise in Black America?

Pregnant Woman?

Police claimed Joyce Ann Gaines spit at them during the ruckus and they arrested her. “She resisted and was dragged out of the crowd which, believing she was pregnant, became even angrier. By 7:45 p.m., the riot was in full force, with rocks, bottles and more being thrown at the buses and cars that had been stalled in traffic because of the escalating incident,” History.com reported.

The National Guard

Nearly 4,000 members of the California Army National Guard were called out to suppress the disturbance.

History Of Police Discrimination In L.A.

“Because of discrimination Los Angeles’ African American residents were excluded from the high-paying jobs, affordable housing, and politics available to white residents moreover, they faced discrimination by the white-dominated Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD),” Wikipedia reported.

The military-like LAPD police force became now for police brutality against Black and brown residents.

Mass Arrest

In the wake of the unrest, the chief of the LAPD called for a policy of mass arrest. In addition to the National Guard, 934 LAPD officers and 718 officers from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department were deployed. South Central Los Angeles was put under an 8:00 pm curfew. Any outside of their homes after 8:00 pm could be arrested. “Eventually more than 3,500 people were arrested, primarily for curfew violations,” Wikipedia reported.

People Power

During the six days of the riot, between 31,000 and 35,000 adults participated and an estimated 70,000 people were “sympathetic, but not active.” There were 34 deaths, 1,032 injuries, 3,438 arrests, and over $40 million in property damage, according to Wikipedia.

Bayard Rustin

The civil rights icon who worked with Martin Luther King Jr. wrote about the Watts Riots in a 1966 essay. Bayard Rustin wrote: “The whole point of the outbreak in Watts was that it marked the first major rebellion of Negroes against their own masochism and was carried on with the express purpose of asserting that they would no longer quietly submit to the deprivation of slum life.”

LAPD Chief William Parker

During the riot, local leaders asked that more Black police be sent into Watts, but then-Los Angeles Police Department Chief William H. Parker denied the request.

“Monkeys”

Police Commissioner Parker called the rioters “monkeys in a zoo.” He also implied Muslims were infiltrating and agitating the uprising, according to History.com.

After The Watts Rebellion

“A commission was set-up to study the causes of the riot, after which several community-improvement suggestions were made that would improve schools, employment, housing, healthcare and relations with the police department,” History.com reported.

But in the end, little changed in the area in terms of economic improvements for the area and police brutality.


Did The 1965 Watts Riots Change Anything?

Sociological data from immediately after the riots in Watts, Los Angeles, in 1965 show major disparities in attitude by race.

This month, the deaths of two more black men at the hands of police, followed by a horrific sniper attack on police officers during a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest, have put the country on edge. Or, more precisely, these incidents have reminded us of tensions around race, policing, and violence that have been with us for decades.

In some ways our current conversation about these issues began more than 50 years ago, on August 11, 1965, when a confrontation between a black driver and white police officers in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles exploded into urban unrest. Six days later, 34 people were dead and property damage totaled $40 million. As David O. Sears and T.M. Tomlinson wrote in a 1968 paper, a media narrative quickly developed: Watts rioters represented a tiny fraction of the neighborhood, reviled by the majority of law-abiding citizens. The riots were a meaningless outburst of destruction that left most locals worried about the neighborhood’s future.

But when researchers went out and actually talked with people in the neighborhood, they found a very different story. Looking at interviews with 586 black adults who lived within the curfew zone that marked the area of the riots, Sears and Tomlinson found that 22 percent said they’d been at least somewhat involved in the unrest. Fifty-six percent said the unrest had a purpose or goal, and 58 percent expected it to have favorable effects. And, while 50 percent said their overall feeling about the riots was unfavorable, more than a quarter reported feeling favorably about them. Even among those who were unhappy that the riots happened, 75 percent described it in terms like “a shame” or “a sad thing,” while only a quarter used words suggesting blame, like “disgrace,” “unnecessary,” or “senseless.”

The difference in response between black people in the Watts area and whites nearby was striking. While 75 percent of white Los Angeles County residents said the riots “hurt the Negro’s cause,” only 24 percent of curfew zone residents said the same. Indeed, only 46 percent of the local residents identified the event as a riot at all, while 38 percent said it was a revolt, revolution, or insurrection. People who were arrested in the violence were particularly likely to use those more politicized terms.

Similarly, about two-thirds of the white group thought authorities handled the situation well, while two-thirds of the local black group said they did a bad job.

To the black curfew zone residents, it seems, the message of the riots was clear. A strong majority attributed the violence either to specific grievances like poverty and police mistreatment or to pent-up frustrations. Many thought whites would see it that way too—51 percent of the black sample said whites were more sympathetic to “Negro problems” after the riots. But there they were apparently mistaken. Only a third of the white group said that whites had become any more sympathetic, and 71 percent said the riots had increased the “gap between the races.”

Weekly Digest

Half a century later, the gap in black and white perceptions of US racism remains enormous. A Pew poll this year found that 38 percent of whites say the country has already made the necessary changes to give blacks equal rights with whites, while only 8 percent of blacks say the same. More distressingly, a full 43 percent of blacks say those changes will never happen. Given that we’ve been having this conversation for a half a century, it’s not hard to see why.


What the Facebook post claims:

The riot left 15,000 Black people homeless

The official state report says people, including some "agents of government" either deliberately burned or destroyed 1,256 homes "alongwith virtually every other structure in the Greenwood district, including churches, schools, businesses, even a hospital and library."

According to the Tulsa Historical Society, 1,500 homes were burned to the ground and over 600 Black-owned businesses were bombed. The district's population was around 10,000 at the time of the riot.

At least 6,000 African Americans were interned by the National Guard for as long as eight days at the Convention Hall and Fairgrounds, according to the Tulsa Historical Society and Museum.

Between 300 and 3,000 were killed, wounded and/or missing

The death toll is difficult to pin down, and the claim is made even harder by combining killed, wounded and missing into one figure.

"Although the exact total can never be determined, credible evidence makes it probable that many people, likely numbering between 100-300, were killed during the massacre," according to the findings of Oklahoma's official Tulsa Race Riot Commission.

Historian John Hope Franklin, in a report that accompanies the official state inquiry, wrote: "One-hundred-sixty-eight Oklahomans died that day. They were Black and white, Native American and Hispanic, young and old."

Dr. Clyde Snow, a forensic anthropologist who served as a consultant to the Oklahoma State Medical Examiner, said in his findings for the official report that a "conservative estimate starts with 38 victims who could be identified individually."

Danney Goble, a regional historian and University of Oklahoma professor, said in an overview of the official report that "an accurate death count would just begin at 38 it might end well into the hundreds."

Mayor G. T. Bynum, who was elected mayor of Tulsa in 2016, has launched an investigation to follow up on oral histories of mass graves of Black victims, which, if proved true, would add to the fatalities. New information indicates the site of possibly three mass graves. Researchers will do test excavation of one site on July 13.

Albert Broussard, professor of history at Texas A&M University who has taught courses on race relations, including the Tulsa Race Massacre, for four decades tells USA TODAY there is no evidence putting the death toll higher than just over two dozen. Broussard, who is a co-author of American history textbooks, says the notion that 300 or more died is "greatly exaggerated" and that it is highly unlikely after all these years that any mass graves will be located.

Scott Ellsworth, University of Michigan historian, Tulsa native and author of "Death in the Promised Land: The Tulsa Race riot of 1921," tells USA TODAY flatly that "nobody knows, nobody knows." Reasonable estimates may go as high as 300 based on a report from a local director of American Red Cross at the time, he says. Another contemporary estimate based on reports of the work of gravediggers would indicate at least 112 graves.

The Tulsa riot of 1921 was the worst riot in American history

This designation is inevitably tied to the number of fatalities, which is in dispute.

"Nope, not even close," says Broussard, who says the Tulsa Race Massacre, while horrific, "generally will take a back seat to the major race riots that occurred in the summer of 1919."

He says the 1917 race riot in East St. Louis, in which 39 Black people and six white people died, was worse, as was the three-day riot in Los Angeles in 1991 that followed the acquittal of four police officers in the beating of Rodney King. More than 60 people died and the rioting caused at least $1 billion in damage.

Ellsworth, noting the deaths, the intensity of the melee, and the widespread destruction, calls the massacre "the largest single incident of racial violence in American history."

Dr. Olivia J. Hooker was six years old when angry mobs destroyed her family's home and business during the worst race riot in U.S. history. USA TODAY

Tulsa was the first American city to be bombed by airplanes

While difficult to determine if the use of airplanes during the Tulsa massacre was the first such incident involving a U.S. city, there is no evidence to the contrary, particularly given that flying was in its infancy.

Buck Colbert Franklin, a prominent Black lawyer, described the attacks by air, according to Smithsonian Magazine. Franklin's 10-page, typewritten first-person account of the incident was discovered in 2015 and donated to the Smithsonian's African American History Museum.

Franklin was the father of African American historian John Hope Franklin, former president of the American Historical Association and Phi Beta Kappa, and the author of an overview of the massacre that accompanies the official state inquiry.

“I could see planes circling in midair," the elder Franklin wrote. "They grew in number and hummed, darted and dipped low. I could hear something like hail falling upon the top of my office building. Down East Archer, I saw the old Mid-Way hotel on fire, burning from its top, and then another and another and another building began to burn from their top."

The Tulsa lawyer said he left his office and went down to the streets.

“The sidewalks were literally covered with burning turpentine balls. I knew all too well where they came from, and I knew all too well why every burning building first caught from the top,” he continues.

An extensive report on the air attack by Richard Warner, a member of the board of directors of the Tulsa Historical Society, accompanies the official Oklahoma investigation of the riot. Warner is more cautious in assessing the reports of airplane attacks: "It is within reason that there was some shooting from planes and even the dropping of incendiaries, but the evidence would seem to indicate that it was of a minor nature and had no real effect in the riot."

He noted that planes were certainly used by police for reconnaissance, along with photographers and sightseers, adding that "there probably were some whites who fired guns from planes or dropped bottles of gasoline or some thing of that sort."

A footnote to the report again expresses skepticism over the wide use of incendiary devices from the air, but says "the evidence does indicate that some form of aerial bombardment took place in Tulsa on the morning of June 1, 1921 — thus making Tulsa, in all probability, the first U.S. city bombed from the air."

More people died this day than in any single event since the Civil War

This is difficult to assess, since the exact death toll is not known.

Reference to the Tulsa riot can't be found in any history books

While the riot received considerable local and national coverage at the time, it quickly receded in the public mind: "So hushed was mention of the subject that many pronounced it the final victim of a conspiracy, this a conspiracy of silence," Goble wrote in his overview of the official report.

The silence was particularly acute in Oklahoma. The race riot report notes that the Tulsa Tribune, in its popular "Fifteen Years Ago" column in June 1936 and its "25 years ago" column in 1946, totally ignored the massacre, dwelling instead on local social news.

While the state finally produced an official report in 2001, no one has ever been prosecuted or punished by the government at any level — municipal, county, state or federal — over criminal acts linked to the massacre, the historical society notes.

Broussard, of Texas A&M, says historians who teach race relations have "talked about it for decades" but adds that it "generally will take a back seat to the major race riots that occurred during the summer of 1919."

"There is much greater awareness of Tulsa in the last couple of decades, but generally the majority of people would not probably know anything more about it," Broussard says.

In Oklahoma, a curriculum on the Tulsa riot was created for teaching in all Oklahoma schools last year, including videos of interviews of survivors. It was based on a pilot program already being taught in Tulsa schools.

Paul Gardullo, curator of an exhibit on the Tulsa Race Massacre at the African American Museum of History in Washington, says there are "many silences" in American history having to do with racial violence, whether a widespread riot or more mundane cases that "people paper over and don't talk about."

"Frankly, the places that most people are learning their history aren't in books," he tells USA TODAY. "It is the museum's responsibility to tell the unvarnished truth about these events."

Regarding specific history books that take up the issue, Tyler Reed, senior director of communication for McGraw-Hill publishers, tells USA TODAY that its higher education text "Experience History" copyrighted 2018 and 2019, covers the resurgence of the KKK in the 1920s and includes an image of Tulsa burning and discusses the massacre.

The Tulsa massacre is also mentioned in higher education textbooks published by Cengage, notably "Mind Tap for U.S. History," copyright 2016 "HIST," copyright 2018 and "Making America: A History of the United States," an updated advance placement edition copyright 2019, according to Kristina Massari, director of public and media relations for Cengage.

In addition, Ellsworth's book "Death in the Promised Land: The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921," is dedicated to the massacre, was originally published in 1982 and has never been out of print.

Ellsworth notes, however, that it is "ridiculous and wrong that this is not commonly referred to in history texts."


“LOS ANGELES WATTS RIOTS” (1965)

The Watts Riots began on August 11, 1965, in Watts, a neighborhood in Los Angeles, when Lee Minikus, a California Highway Patrol motorcycle officer, pulled over African American Marquette Frye on suspicion of driving while intoxicated. Minikus was convinced Frye was under the influence and radioed for his car to be impounded. Frye and Minikus had an altercation over the impound and events escalated. A crowd of onlookers steadily grew from dozens to hundreds. In response to the altercation and what was considered to be racially targeted force on the part of Minikus, the mob became violent, throwing rocks and other objects while shouting at the police officers. A struggle ensued shortly resulting in the arrest of Marquette and Ronald Frye, as well as their mother. Though the riots began in August, there had previously been a buildup of racial tension in the area.

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 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 also fueled the radicalized 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-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.

Eventually, the California National Guard 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 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 were from a diverse crowd. The government tried to help by releasing The McCone Report, claiming that it was a detailed study of the riot, but it turned out to be a short summary with just 15 pages of the report devoted to actually describing the whole event.

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.

A California gubernatorial commission (under Gov. Pat Brown) investigated the riots, identifying the causes as high unemployment, poor schools, and other inferior living conditions. Subsequently, 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.


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