From Watts to Baltimore: A Love Story
This section of class has been dedicated to understanding the concept of “Riots” particularly riots along the east and west coast in the United States. The Riots we’ve examined so far have all occurred in predominantly black areas; which makes sense considering that riots occur when people have nothing less to lose and the system continues to put pressure these groups way past their boiling point. For this reaction paper I wanted to focus more on the Watts Riots of 1965 in comparison to the Baltimore Riots of 2015, just because they were both very similar in the way the media depicted them and their reasons for beginning.
First I wanted to give some background about why the riots occurred in Watts. Due to the need for workers during the wartime effort there was an influx of black migration in the area to fill these positions. Wanting to leave behind the oppressive and violent areas in the south, the black population sought out new opportunity and what they found was more of the same. Los Angeles had extremely restrictive housing options for its African American residents enforced by invisible boundaries and a vigilant police force ready and willing to keep the two separate. In the documentary “Crips and Bloods made in America” they had residents of the Watts area talk about the blatant discrimination they faced when dealing with Police Force, whether it be stop and frisks without any warning or heavy handed tactics for incarcerations.
On August 11, 1965 a black resident was pulled over for “reckless driving” within walking distance of his home. The police officer declared him unfit to drive and told him his car would be impounded. All of this occurred in a public area so more and more residents appeared to watch this incident; but this was a boiling point and they were tired of seeing the police take advantage of them. A fight broke out citizens vs the police and then it turned into a full on riot consuming multiple neighborhoods and causing millions in property damages. This riot could only be squelched by the intervention of the National Guard and more lethal means.
The fact that a singular police interaction could be the tipping point for an entire riot, is one of the reasons why the Baltimore riots came to mind. These riots occurred after the death of Freddie Gray due to the fact he occurred significant injuries after being incarcerated by the local police, the actual tipping point happened once the police department released false information about how he sustained his injuries and why he did not receive treatment in a timely manner. At first there was peaceful protest but it then became violent after the arrest of some of the protesters, the peak of the violence is where these two riots start to look very similar. When about one hundred students were denied access to their only means of traveling home safely by the police in fear they would join the rioters, they responded by attacking the police throwing bricks and glass bottles all while the police retaliated against the students through the exact same means. Police cars were destroyed, businesses torched, as well as many members of the police force sustaining injuries. These riots also were only put out with the presence of the National Guard once they arrived.
The media portrayed both of these events as senseless violence brought on by an overreaction to the police trying to do their job. When in fact it was the citizens standing up against corrupt police practices but because It involved a younger demographic and more aggressive means, the message was lost and they were labeled as thugs or looters. This was the case in both situations in which the peaceful protesters were seen as more intelligent and civilized in comparison to the rioters who were tired of being abused by a system who showed no interest in their struggles. The way the media talked about these events they made it seem as if the reason for these riots was a weakness in the system to prevent things like this from happening which is why the mayor of Baltimore was given so much criticism by both sides because she was openly against the riots taking place but others believed it was her soft politics that caused it in the first place. But in actuality both the protest and the riots combined were geared towards a goal, to address issues within the system and raise awareness to their suffering. The protest was more organized with traditional leadership and strategy but the riots were not as individualistic as one would be lead to believe. With the combined efforts of both tactics it lead to much more press coverage of the event as well as added pressure on the police force to right their wrongs.
Works Citied and Consulted
- J. Hennigan (May 3, 2015). “As Baltimore curfew ends, celebratory crowds peacefully gather”. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved May 7, 2015.
- Abu-Lughod, Janet L. Race, Space, and Riots in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.