In August 1965, the primarily black Los Angeles neighborhood of Watts experienced six days of violent protests and police brutality which came to be known as the Watts Rebellion. The Watts Rebellion marked a major turning point in the growing civil rights movement, adding fuel to the fire of radical activism and stimulating serious discussion and debate in Los Angeles and beyond. This event in Los Angeles history continues to be a topic of discussion, especially when racially charged events such as the Rodney King beating make the news.
Constructing the history of the Watts Rebellion is complex, thanks to the assortment of conflicting reports from the time about the riots, their cause, and those involved. Most historians generally agree that the Watts Rebellion didn't come out of nowhere, however; by August 1965, the region was a powder keg charged to explode. In the preceding months, the community in Watts had witnessed a variety of police shootings, beatings, and other events which they maintained were unprovoked, and they were starting to get very angry.
The catalyst for the Watts Rebellion was the decision of a California Highway Patrol officer to pull over a car because he suspected that the driver was drunk. The scene attracted attention as the officer dealt with the occupants in the car, ultimately refusing to let the driver's brother take over, and radioing for a tow truck to come and impound the car. The gathering crowd grew increasingly restive and angry until people ultimately started throwing rocks and other objects at the police, and the Watts riots commenced.
Over the course of six days, the population of Watts stormed the streets, attacking policemen and white motorists while looting buildings, setting fire to homes and businesses, and obstructing safety personnel like nurses and firemen. The Los Angeles police grew increasingly violent in response, arresting thousands, opening fire on demonstrators, and mercilessly beating participants in the Watts Rebellion along with innocent bystanders. Hospitals quickly became choked with the injured, while the police ran out of room for their prisoners.
It took a deployment of the California National Guard to quell the Watts riots, which ended with millions of dollars of damage and 34 dead, along with over 1,000 injured. The events of the Watts Rebellion were sobering for Californians and Americans in general, illustrating the extremely volatile mood in urban black neighborhoods and setting the stage for the coming years of the civil rights struggle.