August 17th, 1965

Days of Riots End in Watts

On the evening of August 11, 1965, a police officer pulled over brothers Marquette and Ronald Frye in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, California. A crowd gathered to watch and quickly grew as officers questioned the young men. Police presence grew as well. When the young men’s mother arrived on the scene, a struggle ensued, police beat Marquette and Ronald with batons, and all three Fryes were arrested. Outraged, the crowd of onlookers began throwing rocks at police cars, then at passing city buses and other motorists. The unrest soon erupted into pockets of rioting throughout the 20-block area of Watts.

Black youth in the community, exasperated by police brutality and government officials’ indifference, took to the streets. They threw bricks and other debris through store windows, at police cars and at white passersby, and soon grew to include at least 5000 people. When a force of 400 police officers arrived to try to contain the crowds, they exchanged gunfire with the young protesters and beat and arrested many of them but remained unable to quell the unrest. After six days, the riots ended, leaving 34 dead, 1032 injured, nearly 4000 arrested and $40 million in damage.

After the riots, California Governor Pat Brown convened a commission to identify its roots. In December 1965, the commission released a report entitled Violence in the City - an End or a Beginning?, which concluded that the riots were the culmination of Watts’ black residents’ long-felt dissatisfaction with high unemployment rates, poor housing, and inadequate schools. Despite the commission’s findings, little was done in the following decades to address these inequalities or to rebuild Watts.