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Anger, Distrust And A Political Reckoning: Reflecting On The Watts Riots And How Things Have Changed 55 Years Later




Armed National Guardsmen march toward smoke on the horizon during the street fires of the Watts riots, Los Angeles, California, August 1965.
Armed National Guardsmen march toward smoke on the horizon during the street fires of the Watts riots, Los Angeles, California, August 1965.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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Shortly after a California Highway Patrol officer pulled over and arrested Marquette Frye on Aug. 11, 1965, a crowd started to form. Tensions rose as the crowd grew and it eventually led to days of destruction and violence in South Los Angeles and clashes between Watts residents, a predominantly Black neighborhood, and police.

The events resulted in 34 deaths, hundreds of injuries and more than $40 million of property damage. The uprising didn’t develop out of thin air though. Tensions had been simmering for a number of reasons, including long-time distrust in police, disparities in education and residential segregation. The Voting Rights Act also went into effect around the same time, so there was a heightened political awareness in L.A. It’s been 55 years since the events in Watts transpired, but many civil rights and Black Lives Matter advocates wonder how much has really changed since then. This year, the world has seen large-scale protests, marches and riots in response to George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police in May, and the actions have led to the “defund police movement.”

Today on AirTalk, we contextualize the history of the Watts Riots and discuss the changes or lack thereof that have been made over the last 55 years. Do you have thoughts? Join the conversation by calling 866-893-5722. 

Guests:

Brenda E. Stevenson, history & African-American studies professor at UCLA

Mark Ridley-Thomas, Los Angeles County Supervisor representing District 2, which encompasses parts of the Westside, including Culver City, and the Eastside, including Carson and Compton; he tweets @mridleythomas

Connie Rice, LA-based civil rights lawyer; she is on the board of KPCC trustees