The Watts Rebellion took place in the Watts neighborhood in Los Angeles, California, between August 11th and August 17th, 1965. The incident was the culmination of decades of government oppression and repression of the Black majority population of Los Angeles, ranging from illegal beatings, shootings, torture, theft, crushing fines, and harassment through abuse of authority to arrest. Many LAPD officers came directly from the Jim Crow South and carried their tactics with them to the force.
On the night of August 11th, 1965, 21-year-old motorist Marquette Frye was pulled over for supposed reckless driving by police officer Lee Minikus. Frye was placed under arrest. Afterward, his mother and brother were viciously beaten up and arrested as well, and his mother’s 1955 Buick was impounded. This righteously inflamed the community, and residents began coming to the scene of the incident with bricks, broken pieces of concrete, and bottles, thus beginning the rebellion.
Over the next six days, over 977 buildings, most of which were businesses that preyed on the community through usury and high prices and were otherwise unwanted, were burned to the ground, damaged, and/or looted. Over 30,000 people, both adults, and youth, took part in the uprising. Many were either injured or killed by police repression.
A subsequent investigatory committee report ruled that the causes of the uprising were “high unemployment, poor schools, and overall inferior living conditions for the Black colony in Watts.” This incident confirmed what Martin Luther King, Jr. later said regarding The Watts Rebellion and other uprisings: that a “riot” is, indeed, “the voice of the unheard.”
The United States has made it a tradition and practice to exert force and violence in imperialist fashion upon historically oppressed communities at home and abroad. The result of the knowledge of the wickedness of these practices, and of the level of oppression that the United States visits on all of its working and minority citizens, has to lead to uprisings among the oppressed and their allies.
The fundamentally same conditions and character of the society that led to the Watts Rebellion lead to successful culmination of revolution in Russia in 1917, Cuba in 1959, China in 1949, and are currently driving millions of peasants and workers to make a revolution in the Philippines and India. A people beaten down and walked over for centuries will eventually act and work to throw off their chains. The riots in Watts, Ferguson, and Baltimore show that the United States is not exempt from this historical law.