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On This Day… The Watts Riots Began

Written by: George Chittenden : 11 Aug 2019

It was on this day, 11th August back in 1965 when the largest and costliest riots of the Civil Rights era began, the Watts Riots. The urban rebellion raged on for a further six days and resulted in more than forty million dollars’ worth of property damage. It all started when Marquette Frye, a young African American motorist, was pulled over and arrested by Lee W. Minikus, a white California Highway Patrolman, for suspicion of driving while intoxicated in the commercial section of Watts, a deeply impoverished African American neighbourhood in South Central Los Angeles.

Marquette Frye was driving his mother’s 1955 Buick, and when the police pulled him over his friend who was in the passenger seat left the scene and went to his mother’s house to fetch her. Frye’s mother was named Rena Price and when she arrived at the scene the situation quickly escalated out of control. In a 1985 interview she reported that she was pushed, and her son was struck by officers which resulted in her son jumping on one of the officers. Word quickly spread around the community that the police had roughed up Frye and kicked a pregnant woman. It didn’t take long for angry mobs to form. Both Marquette Frye and his mother were arrested and the crowds along Avalon Boulevard grew larger.

Troops on the streets of L.A

Troops on the streets of L.A

The started throwing rocks and chunks of concrete at the police adding fuel to the fire. Eventually a 46-square-mile swath of Los Angeles was transformed into a combat zone for the nearly six days. Over 14,000 California National Guard troops were mobilised in South Los Angeles. The rioting claimed the lives of thirty-four people, resulted in more than one thousand reported injuries, and almost four thousand arrests before order was restored on August 17th.

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