By Betty Pleasant
RIGHT ON!! — It’s been almost 50 years since I’ve felt the need to make that exclamation. In fact, it will be 50 years since Aug. 11, 1965 when South L.A.’s black residents, fed up with the overtly racial hostility of the white Los Angeles Police Department, launched six days of unrest and violence that resulted in the destruction of the Watts commercial district to the tune of $40 million in damage, the deaths of 34 people, injuries to 1,032 and the arrest of 3,438 others. Some people call those six days the “Watts Riot,” others call it the “Watts Rebellion.” I was there; in the middle of the 35,000 angry rioters, and I call it both: a “riotous rebellion” which the city of Los Angeles had coming. After all, the city had a notoriously racist police department, headed by Chief William Parker, who habitually referred to us as “nigras,” and whose officers beat us up for trumped up reasons whenever they felt like it. They were awful and we hated them.
The Watts riot was started by an interaction between a black family and a white law enforcer, namely Highway Patrol motorcycle officer Lee Minikus, who stopped Marquette Frye and his brother Ronald for the reckless driving of their mother’s car. While Marquette, who was the driver, was dealing with Minikus, Ronald walked to their nearby home and brought their mother, Rena Price, back to the 116th Street and Avalon Boulevard scene, where a group of their black neighbors began gathering. Being surrounded by black people, Minikus called for back-up and white LAPD cops with shotguns descended upon the Nigras. They subdued and arrested Marquette by physical force and fought with Ronald and his mother, Rena.
The growing crowd of onlookers began yelling and throwing things at the cops and despite the arrest of the two men and their mama, the numbers of angry onlookers rapidly grew into a menacing mob which neither Parker’s cops nor community leaders could control. Elected officials called, in vain, for “calm.” The people told the elected officials what to do with their “calm” and set about destroying everything in sight. The California Army National Guard and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department were deployed throughout a vast region of South Los Angeles during the rioting and I was almost shot by a national guardsman while I was trying to get an interview.
Now, I feel the excruciating pain and mind-blowing anger of Ferguson, Mo. residents when they responded to the American justice system’s failure to hold Ferguson cop, Darren Wilson, accountable in any way for his killing of the black unarmed teenaged Michael Brown by virtually burning down their neighborhoods. The one thing we learned from the Watts Riotous Rebellion is that you don’t burn down your own stuff —your own community. Personally, I’m not averse to violence, I just believe it should be directed at the enemy, in this case, Henderson’s police stations, not the people’s businesses. Granted, Henderson residents’ brains stopped working when the Wilson verdict validated the justice system’s position that black lives don’t matter in America, and the people took it out on the entities within their community. We in Los Angeles have learned not to do that and Henderson residents will learn it too.
But then, we are talking about lives now. Fifty years ago, we were subjected to police abuse and beatings and set-ups and such and we were fighting for our civil rights. Now, we’re fighting for our very lives and the lives of our children. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The greatest problem facing America is the massacre of our unarmed black men by law enforcement throughout this country. Our elected officials — from the White House on down — are doing nothing about this massacre except telling us to “protest peacefully.” Shut up!!!
Solving this problem goes beyond the lame belief that law enforcement merely needs training and sensitizing as to how it should treat people. We black people need to fight for our lives like we fought for our rights. We need the Black Panthers, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the NAACP, the SCLC, CORE and the United Nations to help us. In fact, somebody needs to take to the United Nations the issue of the United States allowing government goons to murder unarmed black and brown men for whatever reason they can concoct. The United States has no business intervening in Syria or any place else when somebody needs desperately to intervene in the United States.