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As the events in Ferguson, MO have unfolded, I am reminded of the seminal act of community outrage that occurred in South Central Los Angeles during the summer of 1965. I was a third year medical student at UCLA at the time and drove almost every night from UCLA in Westwood to Harbor General Hospital in Carson, a route that took me straight through the South Central area. It was generally a quiet, peaceful area at the time and it never occurred to me that there was unrest that would eventually lead to such tragedy.

The event that ostensibly triggered the riot was the arrest of Marquette Frye, a young African American man, for reckless driving. The arrest occurred near Frye’s home and his mother arrived on the scene to scold him for his reckless behavior. Her wrath was also directed at the arresting officers who, consistent with LAPD behavior at the time, were disrespectful of her and others who were coming to the scene. The police chief at the time was a man named William Parker, who was the Bull Connor equivalent in Los Angeles and made no secret of his disdain for people of color. Parker described the rioters as “monkeys in the zoo.”
One might think that with a solidly established record as a racist, Parker’s legend would be lost in ignominy. But, in fact, when he died a year after the Watts Riots, the Police Building was renamed Parker Center, a name that would persist until the construction of new police headquarters some 40 years later.
Like so many acts of civil disobedience, the arrest of Frye was simply the spark that ignited the tinderbox. In the case of Watts, the main fuel for the tinderbox was the wide spread practice of racial discrimination in housing in California at the time and, specifically, Proposition 14.
Prop 14, sponsored by the California Realtors Association, was passed by the voters of California in 1964 to reverse the Rumford Fair Housing Act. Rumford made it illegal to refuse to sell real estate property to any individual based on race, ethnicity, marital status or handicap. Proposition 14 passed overwhelmingly and made it perfectly legal to discriminate against minorities in the sale or rental of property in California.
The Governor of California, Pat Brown, led the legal battle against Prop 14 and the California Supreme Court finally struck it down in 1966, based on the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment. However, that legal victory ended up being the political death knell for Brown. Later that year, he was defeated for re-election by a candidate who openly praised the discriminatory aspects of Prop 14, infamously saying: “If an individual wants to discriminate against Negroes or other in selling or renting his house, he has the right to do so.”
That candidate, who used overt racism to propel himself to the California Governorship, had just five years earlier proclaimed that “Medicare is just a step away from socialism.”

That candidate?

Ronald Reagan  

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (12+ / 0-)

    E pluribus unum - Because, frankly, I don't Trust in God all that much

    by amadon on Fri Aug 22, 2014 at 04:05:20 PM PDT

  •  Great history. And disturbing questions re: (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Gooserock

    democracy.

    I'm generally an advocate of direct democracy, and local and state plebiscites are generally the best example we have of that in this country.  California's sorry history in that regard, however, casts doubt on the whole idea.

    Elites fuck us over.  We fuck ourselves over.  A society bamboozled regularly by Madmen doesn't have much hope, huh?

    •  Civilization is Dedicated to Madmen Bambloozlemnt (3+ / 0-)

      You can name your system of government, yet no matter which system you run --whether governing or economic systems-- there remain only 2 approaches to informing the people.

      One is for the forces of authoritarianism to capture the public square, and operate it as their private propaganda organ against the people.

      The only other way known is for forces of enlightenment to forbid government from capturing the public square, and instead to surrender it to the forces of authoritarianism to operate it as their private propaganda organ against the people.

      In our system that private right extends to the right of the forces of authoritarianism to lie to us about the most important aspects of events, history, facts and governance, and to omit everything that doesn't advance their interests against ours.

      We've never tried or much debated ways to create a public square that would inform the public, pertinently and factually. Our position after 8,000 years of civilization is that this happens as a spontaneous nature of physical laws; and so the problem must never be addressed consciously with reason and policies.

      So knock yourself out. You can run democracy or a monarchy, you can have capitalism or communism.

      As long as I own and operate the public square, as long as I create the mainstream conversation, have full control over the topics and the views about them, and get to decide who does and doesn't participate, and I either hold it by force of arms or else by your enlightened protecting me with your force of arms for me to hold and operate, sure.

      You, humanity, you can have any government you want.

      We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

      by Gooserock on Fri Aug 22, 2014 at 04:42:58 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  A matter of scale? (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        claude

        I grew up on a farm outside a town of 1,000 people.  Was there some propaganda even in that setting?  Yeah, but it didn't survive for long.  Most people had an opportunity before much time elapsed to have face-to-face dealings with the other people in the community, including the political and economic big shots.

        The larger the decision-making scale, the easier it is to create propaganda that is never tested by real-life, face-to-face contact.

        It is possible to reduce the scale of decision-making.  In fact, I believe there's been a very determined effort to increase the scale, thereby reducing accountability.  Schools are the best example.

        In all these cases of cops getting ridiculous equipment that has no relation to any legitimate function, those decisions have either been made by "representatives" who were probably paid off by those who benefitted monetarily or by the feds combined with the cops who get to play Rambo.  Nobody seems happy about submitting the acquisition of this absurd armament to a public vote.

  •  coincidentally, I was volunteering (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    kurt

    at KPFK-FM,  the original Pacifica station in LA, in the newsroom,  and also being general dogsbody for the LA Free Press in its first months.

    During the spring preceding Watts, I had been part of a radio production called "5 Nights in the Ghetto", tasked with taking a portable reel-to-reel tape recorder down into deep So Central LA and Watts itself,  where I, not quite 20 and with hair to my shoulders, interviewed various community leaders and whoever else I could get to talk to my scared white ass.  The topic was, in essence, what's it like, anyway, living here in the ghetto these days?  There were, of course,  other, more experienced people also doing the work I was just a small part of.

    Produced by Leonard Browne ("77 Sunset Strip" etc) for KPFK, the show aired later in the spring, before the riots, to no one's great surprise, erupted.

    By the time of the riots,  I had also been in Watts to see the marvelous   Watts Towers,  because the FreePress was helping with the campaign to save them.

    Later that summer, I was visiting friends and watching things develop on the TV, my friend,  who was pro photog, Israeli guy, decided he wanted to go down there and enlisted me to drive his white VW Beetle while he would take pics.  I had a camera as well, an Argus C-3,  and a "Press Pass"  I had worked up for myself using the LAFP typographic resources.  Heh.

    Down the Harbor Fwy we drove and were passed by a bevy of LAPD cars hauling ass south with lights ablaze.  So I followed them down the 108th St (?) exit and blundered right into a confrontation of Black people a block to the left and a bunch of cop cars a block to the right.  So I drove straight on thru but unfortunately the street we were on had no way out but the next two left turns,  which brought us to the intersection where the Black people were gathered, us putting up behind them and we were halfway through the intersection before someone noticed.  I heard a yell of "here's whitey"and a couple of rocks hit the car from behind,  so we sought the protection of the police down the block,  who were not pleased.

    I drove up into them  slowly, and they yanked open the car doors and threw us to the ground and yelled at us a bunch and we yelled "Press!  Press!" and they quickly  ordered us back into our car and made us go back the way we came.  

    Yeah well I got my scared white ass out of there right quick, taking the way out which we had taken in and went right back to our white neighborhood and watched some more TV.

    I wince at how naive I was back then...

    don't always believe what you think

    by claude on Fri Aug 22, 2014 at 07:54:10 PM PDT

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