Fifty years ago this month, residents of south Los Angeles were witness to two watershed events in the struggle for empowerment. On August 6, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Voting Rights Act and, with it, gave millions a new sense of possibility borne of the potential for political representation and justice. Hands that once picked cotton, it was noted at the time, could now pick presidents. Voter registration would enable the newly enfranchised to elect sheriffs and judges and serve on juries.
Less than a week later, in response to a traffic stop that would become anything but “routine,” the City of Los Angeles was engulfed in a civil disturbance that would claim 34 lives and leave another 1,000 injured, 4,000 arrested, and property damage estimated at $40 million (just over $3 billion in today’s money when adjusted for inflation). Watts lay in ruins. Hands that had cast ballots for president a year earlier now threw Molotov cocktails.
In the aftermath of what would later be called the Watts Riots, the McCone Commission would attribute the fundamental causes of the rebellion to resentment, even hatred, of the police. The Los Angeles Police Department was the symbol of an oppressive civic leadership that disenfranchised Watts’ largely African American residents by denying them access to jobs, educational opportunities and public services. These conditions mirrored those in the old Confederate South. They provided the socioeconomic basis for a Civil Rights Movement that was growing increasingly impatient with the pace of change. The struggle for empowerment through political representation was on. (Huffington Post)