Which begs the question: Are these riots passing occurrences or, like a series of smaller seismic events, a forewarning of much larger mass civil unrest to come? For the answers, we take a quick trip back in time.
Watts the Problem?
Although today’s “flash” riots are increasingly common, they pale in comparison to what took place in the Los Angeles suburb of Watts in 1965 where over six days of rioting and looting 34 people died, 3,500 were arrested, and over $40 million in property damage was done ($300 million in 2016 dollars).
The riots were sparked when black motorist Marquette Frye was arrested for drunk driving. Locals watched on as the incident unfolded, with word quickly spreading that police had assaulted Frye and a pregnant woman, triggering the Watts riots. Although Frye’s arrest set off the riots, it was merely the straw that broke the camel’s back, unleashing decades of pent-up frustration within the black ghetto.
Starting in the 1920s, large populations of black people migrated north to cities such as Detroit, St. Louis, and Los Angeles to pursue jobs in newly established manufacturing industries. In LA, the black population jumped from 4% in 1940, to 14% in 1965. But there was a problem.