Watts Rebellion

From Anarchy In Action

In the Watts section of Los Angeles on 11 August 1965, the police arrested a black driver, clubbed a bystander, and seized a young black woman.[1] Over the next week, riots of predominantly black residents lasted caused $300 in property damage in the 47 square-mile zone around the neighborhood. 35,000 people actively rioted and twice that number were "close spectators." It took 16,000 police and National Guardsmen to quell the uprising.[2]

The uprising's spontaneity led the police chief William Parker to correctly observe, "These rioters don't have any leaders." Black establishment leadership dismissed the riot, and the NAACP's general secretary Roy Wilkins even said the rioters "should be put down with all necessary force."[3] Locally, however, churches and other grassroots organizations provided food and childcare that allowed the uprising to continue.[4]

The journalist Robert Conot remarked, "In Los Angeles, the Negro was going on record that he would no longer turn the other cheek. That, frustrated and goaded, he would strike back, whether the response of violence was an appropriate one or no." The police and National Guard response was brutal, with four thousand arrested and thirty-four killed.[5]

The Situationist International supported the uprising and remarked, "What American blacks are really daring to demand is the right to really live, and in the final analysis this requires nothing less than the total subversion of this society."[6] The Situationists saw the riot in primarily class terms: "The Watts riot was not a racial conflict: the rioters left alone the whites who were in their path, attacking only the white policemen, while on the other hand black solidarity did not extend to black store-owners."[7]

On 18 August, the police attacked a Nation of Islam temple, signaling "a bloody end to the rebellion."[8]

  1. Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United States, 1492-Present (New York: HarperPerennial, 2003), 459.
  2. "Remembering the Watts Rebellion," Mask Magazine, 17 September 2017, http://maskmagazine.com/the-dropout-issue/struggle/watts-rebellion-freedom-schools/.
  3. Situationist International, "The Decline and Fall of the Spectacle-Commodity Economy," trans. Ken Knabb, accessed 17 September 2017, http://www.bopsecrets.org/SI/10.Watts.htm.
  4. "Remembering the Watts Rebellion."
  5. Zinn, A People's History, 459.
  6. Situationist International, "The Decline and Fall."
  7. Situationist International, "Decline and Fall."
  8. "Remembering the Watts Rebellion."