Los Angeles, California - August, 1965
A bomb ready to explode, racial tensions that have been building for years in Los Angeles, California explode during a traffic stop that quickly moves from routine to a riot!
On a sweltering August evening that has temperatures approaching 100 degrees, riding his motorcycle near the south boundary of the city of Los Angeles, 31-year-old white California Highway Patrolman Lee W. Minikus is informed by a passing black motorist that a car is driving recklessly through the neighborhood. Reacting quickly, Minikus chases down the car and pulls it over at 116th Street and Avalon, in a predominately black community. Inside, the vehicle is occupied by its driver, drunken (he fails the field sobriety test he is given by Minikus) 21-year-old Marquette Frye, and his 22-year-old brother, Ronald. It is 7:00 in the evening.
Sticks of Dynamite
Marquette Frye, Rena Price, and Ronald Frye
After failing the field sobriety test, Minikus informs Marquette that he is under arrest for drunk driving, calls his motorcycle partner to arrange for a car to take Frye to jail and a tow truck to remove the car ... while letting Ronald know that he will not be allowed to drive the car home after his brother's arrest. And so Ronald decides to walk the two blocks or so to his nearby home and see if his mother, Rena Price, can have the car turned over to her (and it is her car, a 1955 Buick that her son was using). Arrest car, tow truck, Price and her son, and another motorcycle officer all arrive at roughly the same time, around 7:15 in the evening ... and as a crowd of on-lookers interested in what is going on on their streets swells from 25 people to a mob of 300. And then Rena Price sets off what will come to be known as the Watts Riots!
Berating her son about his driving under the influence, the peaceful and cooperative Marquette (egged on by the crowd) reacts to his mother's presence by pushing her away, screaming he will have to be killed to go to jail, and trying to escape into the growing crowd on the street ... actions that cause Minikus and his partner to react, which in turn causes Ronald to get involved in trying to free his brother, and Ronald becoming involved gets Price to lose her cool and she attacks the arresting officers, jumping on the back of one and trying to tear his shirt off as Marquette is hit in the head with a night stick. Screaming, yelling, lots of pushing and punches eventually thrown, all three family members are eventually arrested and removed from the scene, but the damage has been done ... a shotgun is pulled on the mob, calls are made for more officers to come to the area, a woman is arrested for spitting on the cops, another for inciting the crowd to riot, and by the time the police withdraw from the scene at 7:30 to stones being thrown at their vehicles, a false rumor spreads through the crowd (now around a 1,000 people) that the cops have beaten up a pregnant black woman!
A Typical Scene
In the 144 hours of mayhem that ensues from the Wednesday night traffic stop, white drivers passing through the area are pulled from their cars and beaten, businesses are looted, buildings are burned to the ground, and the hatred of many of the residents of the area (a 46-square mile region) for the Los Angeles Police Department is put on display for the whole world to see ... rocks, fists, Molotov cocktails, knives and guns will all make appearances before peace is restored to the community on August 17th (it will take 3,900 National Guard troops, 934 Los Angeles police officers, 718 members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, and over 500 firemen) ... and American culture will have a new catch phrase to ponder ... "BURN BABY, BURN!"
Up Against The Wall
Turn Left Or Get Shot!
L.A. On Fire
By the numbers, the civil disturbances known as the Watts Riot will result in 34 deaths (one is a fireman, one is a deputy sheriff, one is a Long Beach police officer, and the others are civilian residents of the area), 1,032 reported injuries (90 police officers, 136 firemen, 10 members of the National Guard, 23 government officials, and 773 civilians), and 3.438 adults being arrested (over 31,000 are estimated to have participated in the disturbances) for a variety of charges (71% are for burglary and theft). Beyond the human toll of the rioting, the madness will cause property damages totaling over $40 million ... striking places where Christmas can be found in August (most of the rampage is released against liquor stores, furniture stores, food markets, clothing stores, department stores, and pawn shops), almost 1,000 buildings will be destroyed or damaged (service stations, automobile dealers, libraries, schools, churches, and homes are for the most part spared). And its all broadcast live on local Southern California television!
National Guard Directing Traffic Out Of The Area
Lots of Looters!
Fifty years ago today ... 8/11/1965 ... and based on the madness and hate still infecting this country, will it also be happening fifty years from now ... hard to say, but at the present I'm not optimistic at all!