The Gentrification of Watts
By Benjamin Valerio
The City of Los Angeles, Watts has been known throughout years to be one of the most infamous cities in the United States of America. The City of Watts, first established after World War 2 over 500,000 African Americans migrated to the West Coast cities in hopes of escaping racism and discrimination. However, the racial equality still remained the same, and the experience they faced in terms of education, unemployment and political discrimination stayed the same. The City of Watts has faced racial injustices, police brutality, poverty, racism and discrimination for a long period of time. Their housing living conditions were terrible, and their isolation in the community was evidence that racial equality remained distant amongst the community. In my personal opinion, I am against gentrification because I believe it’s wrong to move wealthier people into a community that’s less prosperous where families that make the average income have to settle in without any alternatives, and wherever there’s available space. Which will result in the economic eviction of the lower income residents because of the increase in rents, utilities, house prices, and property taxes. They faced gentrification instead of revitalization, and racial injustices caused the population to revolt on August 11, 1965 in what would later become the Watts Rebellion.
It began when the Los Angeles Highway Patrol stopped black Marquette Frye a Watts resident and his brother, accused of speeding. He was arrested, and police officers also arrested all three of the Frye’s family members. The community of Watts was enraged by the family’s arrests, so Watts residents protested as the police cars drove away. This caused a five day revolt which involved 30,000 people inside the community of Watts to protest, organize speeches, and testimonies on poverty that dominated most of Watts residence. This caused crowds of people to gather expanding the cause on racial equality to emerge. People inside the community blamed the police for violence, harassment, and crimes because they believed the Los Angeles Police Department was inflicting crime in the streets in order to meet their quotas. Others blamed the LAPD which they believed were responsible for their poverty and alienation in the community. (Gerald Horne)
According to Jerry Cohen and William S. Murphy, by August, 15 the riot ended when 14,000 National Guard troops arrived and patrolled the streets, it lasted 6 days, and ended up killing 34 people, 1,032 reported injured, 90 Los Angeles Police Officers, 136 Firemen, and 10 National Guardsmen, 23 persons from other Government Agencies, and 773 Civilians. 118 injuries resulted in gunshot wounds. There were 4,000 arrested and 40 million dollars in property damage. 600 buildings were damaged by burning flames, and more than 200 were completely destroyed, including food markets, liquor stores, furniture stores, clothing stores, department stores, and pawn shops. During the riot law enforcement officers recovered 851 weapons, and 2,000 to 3,000 fire alarms were reported. It was one of the most severe, intense riots in the history of Los Angeles. However, the Watts rebellion didn’t significantly improve the lives of blacks in the community. (Jerry Cohen & William S. Murphy)
Racial hatred between Mexican Americans, and Blacks was also evident in the community because according to Jerry Cohen, and William S. Murphy on March 15, 1966 there were rumors at nearby Jordan High School that there would be a “rumble” between Negroes and Mexicans. (Pg.313) Racial hatred had been mounting between the two groups in Watts. Law enforcement officers, government officials, and negroes who for decades have had to put up with the virtual ghetto and racial discrimination. The attitudes that Negroes, and Mexicans have encountered towards white police officers weren’t pleasant. Divide and conquer was one concept police law enforcement officers would act upon to keep themselves in control, and most of the time people inside the community were blind to see it themselves. They would set gang members up, and throw them right in the enemies territories. They would kill each other without seeing the significance of unity, knowing that if groups of minorities come together it would become harder to oppress one people. We are the national allies of the oppressed people all over the world, so why not make this a better place to live in.
There was also drama, and dangerous conditions under which for years the Los Angeles Police Department had to faced against gang members in the area of Watts. According to (Jerry Cohen & William S. Murphy) people inside their homes had devastating encounters with the police as well. Aubrey Griffin was accused of shooting a Guardsmen, and fleeing into a house. One officer shouted “We’re police officers. Come out with your hands up.” “Fuck you. Come in and get me,” a voice yelled from within the house. Police opened fire. A fusillade of bullets tore through the front door. One officer ran to the rear and gained entry, and injured himself in the process. He could see both Mrs. Griffin and her son in the front room. He ordered them to sit down in chairs. Aubrey Griffin was lying in a pool of blood by the door”(Pg.258). “Officers found a .32 caliber Spanish pistol with three live rounds in it, but a ballistic test showed that it had not been fired recently. The autopsy reported stated that the victim had not been drinking. He died of massive shotgun wounds with multiple tracts in his right limb, his stomach, chest, heart and right hip” (Pg.259).
“The case had an unusual aspect. If Griffin had fired on the National Guardsmen and had run from his car to the house, where was the weapon he had used? The gun was never found. If he had one certainly neither he, his wife, nor his son would have had time to dispose of it. The verdict of the coroner’s jury, nonetheless was justifiable homicide” (Pg.259). This case wasn’t different from many others inside Watts Community. Police officers were killing people without any evidence or factual information to back up their assault or arrest. Many people in the community believed police officers could get away with murders they committed because when they were sent to trail they always had the support of the federal government. Then it became real evident that police officers were acting upon their own will, and acted towards cruelty without compensation. (Jerry Cohen & William S. Murphy).The facts remain that hundreds of others who ran with the mob had never been in trouble with the police. Many were juveniles, and some were killed because they were slow on their feet when others escaped from the police, they were others that hopped over the fence. Others who lost their lives were innocent people in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Today in Watts, Lillian Mobley a teacher, leader, activist, and icon had some powerful astounding words to say “Being recognized is not her first priority, it never has been” because she rarely gets the media attention of what she has contributed to the betterment in Watts. She is well known throughout Watts for her efforts to broaden resources for the poor. She is still active today, and has helped by joining together with other activist like Mary Henry, Johnnie Tillman, Nona Carter, and several others who fought for the construction of the Martin Luther King Jr. Hospital, Medical School, and Charles Drew University. She has helped so much in the past, that she is still committed to serve the communities affected with poverty, and homelessness in Los Angeles. She has also contributed with constructing permanent buildings constructed at Southwest College in Los Angeles, and her association with the college as a member of the Southwest Bond Construction Programs Committee. However, despite being unable to drive and taking dialysis three times a week, Mobley keeps a hectic schedule. She affiliates with councils, committees, like Brotherhood Crusade, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the Watts Labor Community.
She’s not well known in certain places in Los Angeles, but she is considered one of the most strongest advocates in the Watts Council Committees. Everyone that knows her says she’s committed for making things better in the community, and doesn’t matter how long it takes to for radical changes to occur. Her main concern, and peoples advice is to always stay in school, and be concerned about their education and well being. In 1967, she was involved in Neighborhood Participation Project, it was an anti-poverty program designed to provide training and unemployment opportunities for adults in poor neighborhoods. She was working as a community worker, health and education specialist, and center director. She was also elected as delegate to the National Democratic Convention in 1980, and the following year was delegate for the State Conference. She has received numerous awards and special commendations for her commitment to the community from all around. She has been recognized by the Lung Association, Compton Unified School District, and The Congressman Augustus Hawkins. She is 79 years of age, and she has done so much for the community, and has no intentions on slowing down.“I have to keep going,” she said. “If I go and lay down and feel sorry for myself, they might as well call the undertaker. The challenges in life just keep me going. There is still work to be done.” (Lillian Mobley). She will always be remembered by the people who she impacted the most in her given life.
The book covers a section where it explains the roots on how, and why the Watts Revolt burst out. “This was a complete failure to get representation and understanding of the poor people, particularly Negros,” Shriver said. “Los Angeles is the only major city in the United States that does not have a well-rounded community actions program because of the failure of local officials to establish a broad-based community action board representing all segments of the community.” He linked that the lack of poverty funds in the riot when he declared: “ The people in the poverty areas have been led to believe the money was forthcoming, They were upset over their failure to get it” (Pg.272). This means there was a lack of attention from local officials because they weren’t giving the community the proper funds, and community officials were not liable. They were not concerned on their health or well being, only about profit. They weren’t making any positive changes in the community which means they were not doing their job correctly. Community Organizers didn’t think about their economic statues, they just fought the community blindly as if they were living in “middle class conditions”. When someone’s social conditions are ignored they must act upon their own will whether negative or positive actions become involved for their survival and well being. Overall, the community organizers should be blamed for the cause of the Watts rebellion because they weren’t concerned about the communities social corruption, but for themselves and their greed for corporate money. “The Federal Government was impacted with the revolt and was inspired to establish programs to address the needs of unemployment, healthcare, education, and housing. Today most of the population of Watts is Latino descendants from Central America, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. The population might have changed, but the issues on poverty, alienation, discrimination still remain present in the community” (Gerald Horne).
In conclusion, I believe gentrification wasn’t the correct way for solving the problem in Watts. The people responsible for making sure everyone in the community had food, shelter, and the basic necessities should be responsible to act upon the community’s needs, and reality was that the community needed major changes. They should have established programs where the community can benefit from, so that the community would grow financially and economically. I believe the community was put through many devastating events, so that they wouldn’t be able to compete on the elite upper class white men and become prosperous. They used propaganda to draft people into war, making patriotism grow quickly. They used propaganda to make the importance of education seem worthless. They put so many obstacles so that we wouldn’t get the idea that education can change things around, and make people look at things in a whole different perspective.
Work Cited Pages:
The Book “Burn, Baby Burn” By Jerry Cohen and William S. Murphy. Introduction by Robert Kirsch
Mobley, Lillian. "Watts Community Activist Lillian Mobley At Nearly 80 Years Old Is Still Fighting." L.A. Watts Times. March 26 2009. Watts Community. 3 Jun 2010 <http://www.lawattstimes.com/component/content/article/52-featured/575-watts-community-activist-lillian-mobley-at-nearly-80-years-old-is-still-fighting.html>.
Gerald Horne. Fire This Time: The Watts Uprising and the 1960s (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1995); Josh, Sides. L.A. City Limits: African American Los Angeles from the Great Depression to the Present (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003; Governor’s Commission on the Los Angeles Riots. Violence in the City—an End or a Beginning? (Los Angeles: Governor’s Commission on the Los Angeles Riots, 1965).
On Watts and the 1965 Riots: