On August 11, 1965, the Watts riot began. South Central Los Angeles went up in flames for five days -- preceded by a night of rock throwing.
Five days earlier, Lyndon Johnson had signed into law the Voting Rights Act, which set up Federal procedures to enable blacks to vote in the South, where state laws had made this difficult for all but the most dedicated and strong-willed blacks to do since 1877.
The South was changed politically forever by this law and its updates. White politicians who had said "never" counted noses -- black noses -- and said, "soon." Within five years, the political issue was settled.
The issues in Watts have not been settled.
I remember Watts. I lived in Southern California. In 1959, I sometimes drove to Watts to photograph a track meet or watch a high school sporting event. It seemed safe.
Today, I would not drive into Watts. Some resident would have to drive me. Watch Grand Canyon for a taste of what can go wrong. The ghetto today is far wider than Watts was in 1965. I went to kindergarten through the third grade in what is now referred to as "the hood."
It all blew up in August 1965. That was one year after the Civil Rights Act was passed. That was a landmark piece of Federal legislation, which only a President from the South (Texas) with enormous clout could have rammed through. Johnson said at the time that it would forever cost the Democrats the South's votes. So far, he was right.
The New York Race Riots of 1964 were the first in a series of devastating race-related riots that ripped through American cities between 1964 and 1965. The riots began in Harlem, New York following the shooting of fifteen year-old James Powell by a white off-duty police officer on July 18, 1964. Charging that the incident was an act of police brutality, an estimated eight thousand Harlem residents took to streets and launched a large-scale riot, breaking widows, setting fires and looting local businesses. The eruption of violence soon spread to the nearby neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant and continued for six days, resulting in the death of one resident, over one hundred injuries, and more than 450 arrests. As the civil unrest in New York City began to cool, another riot broke out upstate, in Rochester, New York. Like the Harlem Riot, the Rochester Riot stemmed from an alleged act of police brutality. For three days, violent protestors overturned automobiles, burned buildings, and looted stores causing over one million dollars worth of damages. Following Governor Nelson Rockefeller's mobilization of the state's National Guard, public order was restored to Rochester on July 26. The New York Race Riots of 1964 highlighted the racial injustice and growing civil unrest existing in northern cities and served as a powerful indicator of the urgent need for social and economic reforms for African American communities outside of the South.
That final sentence is typical: "The New York Race Riots of 1964 highlighted the racial injustice and growing civil unrest existing in northern cities and served as a powerful indicator of the urgent need for social and economic reforms for African American communities outside of the South." The riots occurred only after the Voting Rights Act became law. There was a pattern here: liberal national racial rights legislation ====> local race riot.
There was a great need for reforms, but that did not justify a riot. The leaders of the civil rights movement deplored the violence. These rioters were not rioting to protest. They were rioting for the hell of it. That's what rioters do.
The Watts riot began the following August when a policeman arrested a drunk driver. The man's brother wanted to drive the car home. That was a reasonable request. The policeman had the car impounded -- a dumb move, but not life-threatening. A crowd formed around him and the arrested man. One thing led to another, which is to say, nobody really remembered the exact sequence of events after the riot ended. But this is clear: the riot began the next night, after a public hearing that afternoon. The arrested man's mother called for peace. This did no good. The rioting lasted for five days. Over 1,000 buildings were burned, some to the ground. This was inside the ghetto. The rioters looted and burned their own race's residents. The phrase "burn, baby, burn" came out of that event.
What made it unique in the history of riots was that a local TV station, KTLA, had a traffic helicopter. It was the only one in the city. The station broadcast the riot, 24x7. The whole region watched. People watched nothing else. It was spellbinding. We watched from on high as groups of people went into stores and then carried out TV sets and other goods. The telephoto lens showed it all.
[The station had been purchased a year earlier by cowboy B-movie actor Gene Autry. The riots made KTLA the dominant non-network TV station in the region. He became fabulously wealthy as a result. He was merely a multimillionaire before. On August 11, 2010, 45 years to the day after the first incident launching the riot began, on his 87th birthday, the principal narrator of the riot, KTLA's Stan Chambers, announced his retirement. He was at the time the longest-employed broadcaster in television anywhere on earth. He began in 1947. I wrote an article about him in 2005.]
This video is a newsreel. There was no videotape in 1965. They still ran newsreels in movie theaters. This is how most Americans were introduced to the visuals of the riot.
Note: $200 million then was about $1.5 billion today. Later estimates were much lower: closer to $40 million.
It stunned southern Californians. Why? Because L.A. was not Birmingham, Alabama. There were no attack dogs. There were no fire hoses turned on black teenagers in white dress shirts. For years, black-white race relations had been peaceful, as far as whites knew. Why did Watts blow?
There was anger, but the victims were not whites. Anger does not explain it.
Two words do: jealousy and envy.
Envy is not jealously. Jealousy is where a person says, "You've got something I want. I can't afford to buy it. I'll steal it from you. Or I'll force you to negotiate with me for some of it." Envy is different. "You've got something I want. I can never have it. I resent it. I'll destroy it, so that you cannot have it." Jealousy can be bought off. Envy cannot be.
Jealous people steal. Envious people burn -- in every sense.
Envy does not operate between people of widely different social statuses or incomes. The average Joe is not envious of the money earned by some local athlete, just so long as he stays local. (Think "LeBron James.") The same man may be intensely envious of his boss. He sees his boss daily. He knows his boss's weaknesses. He asks, "Who does he think he is? He's not so much."
The rioters targeted local businesses. They did not target whitey. (The term "whitey" appeared sometime in the next three years, as the black power movement began to take shape -- black social separatists who did not seek integration.)
That was 1965. This is 2011.
Here is a synopsis.
In some areas, rioters moving quickly and nimbly on foot and by bicycle seemed so emboldened that they began looting in broad daylight, while in others they raided small shops and large stores free of any restraint by the police. Newspapers on Tuesday showed images of hooded and masked looters swarming over shelves of cigarettes or making off with flat-screen televisions.
On Tuesday, the violence seemed to be having a ripple effect beyond its immediate focal points: News reports spoke of a dramatic upsurge in household burglaries; sports authorities said two major soccer matches in London -- including an international match between England and Holland -- were likely to be postponed because the police could not spare officers to guarantee crowd safety.
Here is what is different from Harlem in 1964, Watts in 1965, and a hundred Northern American cities 1967-68. The violence has moved uptown. The violence has moved upscale. The violence is coordinated.
They are targeting businesses. There is continuity with the riots of the 1960s.
How did this happen? Simple. Blackberries. The left-wing Guardianreports.
This weekend's north London riots, the Daily Mail announced on Monday, were "fuelled by social media".
But is this necessarily the case?
Certainly, the first online gathering of people mourning -- and soon vowing to avenge -- the death of Tottenham resident Mark Duggan took place on Facebook. Some of those behind the page, which now boasts more than 7,500 fans, launched into action shortly before 10.30pm on Saturday evening -- more than five hours after the first public show of protest, outside the police station on Tottenham High Road.
At 10.45pm, when rioters set a double decker bus alight, the page posted: "Please upload any pictures or video's you may have from tonight in Tottenham. Share it with people to send the message out as to why this has blown into a riot."
However, otherwise, if there was any sign that a peaceful protest would escalate, it wasn't to be found on Facebook. Twitter was slightly more indicative: tweets about an attempt to target Sunday's Hackney Carnival were spotted by police and the event was abruptly cancelled.
Scotland Yard warned on Monday afternoon that those "inciting violence" on the 140-character social network would not go unpunished. Deputy assistant commissioner Stephen Kavanagh confirmed that officers were looking at the website as part of investigations into widespread looting and rioting.
However, the most powerful and up-to-the-minute rallying appears to have taken place on a more covert social network: BlackBerry Messenger (BBM).
Using BlackBerry handsets -- the smartphone of choice for the majority (37%) of British teens, according to last week's Ofcom study -- BBM allows users to send one-to-many messages to their network of contacts, who are connected by "BBM PINs". For many teens armed with a BlackBerry, BBM has replaced text messaging because it is free, instant and more part of a much larger community than regular SMS.
And unlike Twitter or Facebook, many BBM messages are untraceable by the authorities (which is why, in large part, BBM is so favoured by Emirati teens to spread illicit gossip about officialdom).
One BBM broadcast sent on Sunday, which has been shown to the Guardian by multiple sources, calls on "everyone from all sides of London" to vandalise shops on Oxford street.
It said: "Everyone from all sides of London meet up at the heart of London (central) OXFORD CIRCUS!!, Bare SHOPS are gonna get smashed up so come get some (free stuff!!!) fuck the feds we will send them back with OUR riot! >:O Dead the ends and colour war for now so if you see a brother... SALUT! if you see a fed... SHOOT!"
Another sent shortly before the outbreak of violence in Enfield on Sunday afternoon reads: "Everyone in edmonton enfield wood green everywhere in north link up at enfield town station at 4 o clock sharp!".
This local community, obviously Indian, is trying to defend itself, but they have no guns. Gun control deliberately disarmed the law-abiding population. The police told them that they may not use any weapon outside their shops -- only inside.
I'll tell you how the authorities stopped the rioting in Watts in 1965. After police and firemen were shot at by rioters, they pulled out. They let the rioters burn the place down. The innocent residents inside the blocked-off area were at the mercy of hooligans and arsonists. Only after two days of rioting did Los Angeles call in the state-run National Guard military troops.
For several days, rioters overturned and burned automobiles and looted and damaged grocery stores, liquor stores, department stores, and pawnshops. Over the course of the six-day riot, over 14,000 California National Guard troops were mobilized in South Los Angeles and a curfew zone encompassing over forty-five miles was established in an attempt to restore public order. All told, 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 17.
The riot was contained, but at the expense of law and order inside the cordoned-off area. "Burn, baby, burn." And burn it did.
Throughout the crisis, public officials advanced the argument that the riot was the work outside agitators; however, an official investigation, prompted by Governor Pat Brown, found that the riot was a result of the Watts community's longstanding grievances and growing discontentment with high unemployment rates, substandard housing, and inadequate schools. Despite the reported findings of the gubernatorial commission, following the riot, city leaders and state officials failed to implement measures to improve the social and economic conditions of African Americans living in the Watts neighborhood.
Remember, this was 13 months after the Civil Rights Act. This was less than a week after the Voting Rights Act.
Watts blew up again in 1992: the Rodney King riots. The police beat a speeding, drunk, and resisting Rodney King. It got captured on a video. The police were tried by whites across town, and were not convicted of the beating. (Two of the four were later convicted of Federal civil rights violations, and went to jail.)
The news of acquittal triggered the Los Angeles riots of 1992. By the time the police, the U.S. Army, the Marines and the National Guard restored order, the casualties included 53 deaths, 2,383 injuries, more than 7,000 fires, damages to 3,100 businesses, and nearly $1 billion in financial losses. Smaller riots occurred in other cities such as Las Vegas in neighboring Nevada and as far east as Atlanta, Georgia. On May 1, 1992, the third day of the L.A. riots, King appeared in public before television news cameras to appeal for peace, asking:
"People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along? Can we get along? Can we stop making it, making it horrible for the older people and the kids?...It's just not right. It's not right. It's not, it's not going to change anything. We'll, we'll get our justice....They won the battle, but they haven't won the war....Please, we can get along here. We all can get along. I mean, we're all stuck here for a while. Let's try to work it out. Let's try to beat it. Let's try to beat it. Let's try to work it out.
"Why can't we just get along?" It's the right question. So far, there is no agreed-upon answer.
Understand what has happened in 2011 in Great Britain. This is not social revolution. There is no list of grievances. There are no spokesmen. This is well-organized banditry. This is the most dangerous of all mobs: one without a leader to negotiate with or arrest.
Why the riots? The Left's party line never changes: not enough jobs, not enough state welfare. You can read it here. The article says the riots may be coming to the United States. I thoroughly agree.
I have a different analysis regarding the causes. First, there is state-funded education, k-12 (or dropping out). Second, there are minimum wage laws, which hit black teenage males most of all. Third, there is a complete breakdown of families, subsidized by state welfare. Fourth, there is envy. Fifth, there is jealousy. Sixth, the cost of organizing violence is falling steadily. The fun and excitement of violence are tempting to young men with no roots and no fathers at home. When you have a falling price for a forbidden fruit, you get riots. Combine it with racial hatred and a life of envy, and you get riots.
The jealous steal. The envious burn. They're already in a city near you.
There will be an incident. There always is.
There may be a riot. If there is, governments will react. Freedoms will be removed. Voters will cheer.
Violence feeds on itself.
The victims of banditry will take it for a while. They have been guilt-manipulated for 45 years. But the day will come when they will dig in, the way the Indian shop owners did in London. But, in this country, the victims will be armed.
Better to be tried by 12 than carried by six.
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