[Marxism] 40th Anniversary of Watts Riots

Calvin Broadbent calvinbroadbent at hotmail.com
Wed Aug 17 05:53:03 MDT 2005

This week marks the fortieth anniversary of the Watts rebellion. Forty years 
ago yesterday, the South Central neighborhood of Watts, Los Angeles erupted 
into six days of rioting after white traffic police stopped a black man, 
accused him of drunk driving and crowds gathered as officers began beating 
him with their batons. The Watts uprising sheparded in a new more militant 
era of the civil rights movement as African-Americans took to the streets in 
a mass protest against white economic exploitation and police brutality.
But mainstream media coverage at the time portrayed the uprising only as 
lawless and destructive. There was little attempt to understand the reasons 
behind the rebellion and there were virtually no interviews with the rioters 
themselves. In fact, at the time of the riots, the L.A Times did not have 
one black reporter on its' staff.


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JUAN GONZALEZ: We go now to a news report from that era.

NEWSREEL: Six days of rioting in a Negro section of Los Angeles left behind 
scenes reminiscent of war-torn cities. More than a hundred square blocks 
were decimated by fires and looters, and few buildings were left intact. 
Firemen were [inaudible] snipers and brick-throwing hoodlums as they 
attempted to control the fires, many of which were left to burn themselves 
out. As the national guard moved in to restore comparative calm, the losses 
by fire alone were put at $200 million. No attempt has yet been made to 
estimate the losses suffered at the hands of the looters who stole 
everything from liquor to playpens.

Firemen were later issued flak suits of bulletproof mesh to protect them 
from snipers who continued to shoot from rooftops. Nearly 3,000 were 
arrested and authorities had to open abandoned jails to house those netted 
by the police. It took the appearance of 14,000 troops to bring an end to 
what both Negro and white leaders called “insurrection by hoodlums.” Civil 
rights leaders were quick to deplore the unbridled lawlessness, and Martin 
Luther King vowed to do all in his power to prevent a recurrence in Los 
Angeles or anywhere.

An uneasy calm prevails in what is known as the Watts area of the city. A 
curfew was put into effect and the entire section declared off limits to all 
but residents. The people who live here are suffering great hardship, with 
no grocery, drug or other service stores able to operate.

A special task force of 1,000 policemen stays on the alert as the thousands 
of guardsmen patrol an area of 35 square miles. The outbreaks spread to 
other Southern California cities but were quickly quelled, and Los Angeles 
authorities say they are now ready to move with dispatch if lawlessness 
breaks out anew. The riots in Los Angeles have written a sorrowful page in 
American history.

AMY GOODMAN: That was a Universal Newsreel report from 1965 about the Watts 
rebellion. We now go to a Pacifica documentary called about the uprising 
that was also produced then, entitled "The Fire This Time," produced by 
stations KPFA and KPFK.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 1: The chief of police, I had seen him on television these 
last few days trying to blame the whole thing on agitators. Parker said, 
‘Well, agitators had been going into that neighborhood for two years and 
telling those people they're deprived, and so naturally they're beginning to 
believe them.’ My god, does he really believe these people are so stupid 
that they don't know they're deprived until agitators tell them so?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 2: If you look at the TV and the radio coverage, if you 
look at the newspaper coverage of this event, the entire press coverage with 
almost no exception is white. Here, we’re talking on TV, where we look at 
face after face after face, covering this Negro revolt, and there isn’t a 
Negro face discussing it. We get this all filtered through white minds, 
white thinking, white experience, white relationships, and let's face it, 
the most important fact, white fears, white fears of the Negro, of what the 
Negro will do, of where the Negro will move and, of course, always in the 
back of everybody's mind, ‘would you like one to marry your daughter?’ And 
let’s not forget this. This is the big ridiculous bugaboo, the fetish.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 1: Now, look, a white man in Mississippi will go with a 
colored woman. But you let a colored man -- look how they did poor Emmett 
Till. He whistled at a low class white woman, they say. And they found him, 
and he was dead. And he wasn't but 15 years old. If a white man can go with 
a colored woman, why can't a colored man go with a white woman? She ain't no 
better than us. That’s right.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 2: We are born equal. At least many of us believe that we 
are born equal. But yet, the Negro is expected to behave in a superior 
manner. Remember the churches were bombed. The news media brought it to our 
teenagers, young children were killed in a church at Sunday school. The 
snipers killed Medgar Evers. Now when snipers are shooting, you know, it’s 
wrong. But yet the Negro is supposed to behave in a superior manner and 
supposed to see the difference. Hoses and dogs were turned on the people in 
Alabama. But yet, we are supposed to live with this and have no feelings 
about it and at no time show any resentment.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 3: All I got to say is “Burn, whites! Burn the mother!”

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 1: You can't even get a job around here, not a decent 
job. Alright, they hired my mother as a cook. She cooked for a white woman 
almost 15 years, but yet, still she's not good enough to come through the 
front door. Go through the backdoor. She had to do it because she had us to 
take care of. That’s right, I’d be willing to live next door hand in hand 
with the white man. That’s right, if they treat us just like we're supposed 
to be treated, like we're human and not dogs.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 2: There was a great deal of destruction of property, great 
deal of rock throwing, great deal of bottle throwing, great deal of Molotov 
cocktail throwing. There was some very professional arson done out there 
that I saw firsthand. But there were relatively few people killed, and most 
of them, I think almost 10 to one, that the people killed were colored. Now 
these people are armed out there in the ghetto. They have certainly an 
adequate number of firearms, they have adequate ammunition, they looted 
scores of pawn shops in order to get these guns, sporting goods stores, war 
surplus stores. They have hunting rifles, they have their own pistols. Why 
was it that so few people got killed on the side of the police? This strikes 
me as being a violent protest, but not necessarily a murderous insurrection, 
because the casualties don’t look right.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 2: We wonder how the normal deprived person reacts when 
you're hungry, you're overcrowded, you have no hope. Some people commit 
suicide. Others must learn how to handle it and must not show it in any way. 
They must be patient. They must wait. How much can you be deprived?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 4: You start in Alhambra and go through Los Angeles and 
drive straight down Mission, you’ll run through a Mexican neighborhood for 
ten miles and when you leave that Mexican neighborhood, you run into a 
colored neighborhood and you stay in that colored neighborhood until you get 
out of the city of Los Angeles. You can drive 20 miles. And the white people 
have [inaudible] the central part of Los Angeles to Negros and Mexicans. 
There are a million and a half of them. And there is no race riot, because 
if there were a race riot, they would burn down the city of Los Angeles.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 5: How come they can't do to us like they do to the whites? 
How come they can't do to us like they do to the whites?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 6: It’s not only the police department, man! It’s every 
other –

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 5: It’s the police department!

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 7: I said last year, this was going to happen. Everybody 
said I was an alarmist. But I said that if the police continued in their 
course of behavior, we were going to have exactly this event. The only 
problem was when.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 8: The intersection is littered with debris from glass, 
from accidents, cars that have been abandoned and gutted by fire, lying at 
intersections. I seen a complete and utter panemonium, spreading faster and 
faster throughout the ghetto.

AMY GOODMAN: Pacifica documentary on the Watts uprising, as we turn now to 
Gerald Horne, author of the book, Fire This Time: The Watts Uprising and the 
1960s. Juan?

JUAN GONZALEZ: Gerald, welcome, and your thoughts 40 years later?

GERALD HORNE: Sadly and unfortunately, Juan, some of the causes of that 
civil unrest of 1965 are still with us. First of all, the industrialization, 
offshoring, the slaying of jobs which leads to despair, that’s still with 
us. Police misconduct, police brutality, that was what lit the fuse in 1965, 
I'm afraid that's still with us, as well. So as we go into the 21st century, 
I'm afraid, 40 years later, after August 1965, the basic conditions that led 
to the then largest episode of unrest in this country to that time, those 
causes are still with us.

AMY GOODMAN: You wrote a whole book, Fire This Time, Gerald Horne. What 
captivated you about -- what did you find was most important about the Watts 

GERALD HORNE: Well, in part it was the ideology that came out of those 
events. That is to say, August 1965 was a hinge moment in terms of U.S. 
history. With August 1965, you see the efflorescence, you see the rise of a 
certain kind of masculinous black nationalism. You also see the rise of a 
certain kind of activism -- it’s from August 1965, those ashes that you see 
the rise of the Black Panther Party, an organization which, of course, was 
emulated all across the globe. It’s with August 1965, I’m afraid, as well, 
you see the rise of a pattern mass incarceration. Note that in that 
documentary you just broadcast, they talked about how they felt they had a 
dirth of jails. And it was with that particular moment that you see this 
expansion of what has now come to be known as the prison industrial complex, 
which, of course, has led to the incarceration of a generation of African 
American males. In particular, now, it’s sweeping within its gambit African 
American women.

AMY GOODMAN: Gerald Horne, I want to thank you very much for being with us, 
author of Fire This Time: The Watts Uprising and the 1960s.


Artist: Kam
Album:  Neva Again
Song:   Watts Riot

God damn devils, done finally made they move on South Los Angeles
In Watts, the shots don't quit
And in Compton we got the same shit
Damn pigs is puttin in straight work
Murderin blacks and just smirk
Ain't nothin but another day at the office
So now it's damn near illegal to be a negro
So do I make a run for the border?
Or - fuck Bush, and his "New World Order"
The law is the straw that broke the camel's back
Just one more punk attack
on the black, and now the shit is on
(Peel this cap and I'm gone!) Oh yeah
See now all hell is finna break loose
And Uncle Tom ain't got no juice
Nigga shoulda been down from the start
but he ain't had a heart, for another Watts riot

So we done lost all patience
(Man fuck police investigations!)
See we gon' handle this right, tonight
(We're tearin up everything in fuckin sight!)
And I ain't got a damn thing to lose
So the news gon' have they hands full
Not to mention the police, fool
No justice, no peace
It's a eye for a eye, so don't even try and speak
on how blacks, should turn the other cheek
To hell with all y'all devils
Ain't no love losses for no white crosses
So what y'all know about this interpretation
with your college education?
Y'all best just keep quiet
and get your ass ready for this next Watts riot

[Ice Cube]
Straight pandemonium!  Niggaz I'm with nutty
Mr. Macgillicuddy done got got
And I'm tossin more cocktails loc
'Til the whole fuckin block smell like smoke
Black folks are loc'n, no jokin
Yo Kam, grab the coke and choke 'em
Make sure that somethin is broken
and then you can smoke him (c'mon)
Got a clip on the news of me with a TV
and I don't give a fuck who done seen me
Fightin the police with my peers
With head and shoulders, and no more tears
And they can't stop me
Cause, I'm eatin more crackers than Polly
For the Jack that smoked the black
I gotta do the right thing for you and Rodney King
Burn down his market
But then you claim, Ice Cube had to spark it
Puttin Beverly Hills in fear
Cause Hollywood burnt down last year
So if you throw me Ozzie and Harriet
I fuck around and bury it, huh
Ain't makin the hood look shitty
Watts riot, insurgent city motherfucker!

The whole city is on fire
And now it's down to the wire
Time to call for a national emergency
Cause white folk goin up in smoke
Too fast, they ass is out before they know it
So when I light this cocktail, Cube throw it
And make sure that it reach
Yeah motherfucker, that's for Howard Beach
And Brother Olivert X, so what's next
with y'all punk-ass cowards?
Each of us bring fo' devils
and let's get this over with, yeah, no shit
We ain't worried about dyin
(Man I think you better give up man) Nah I ain't even tryin
I'd rather go out fightin
But let y'all tell it I'm incitin a Watts riot

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