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50 Years On: A Look Back at the Watts Riots

This historical footage from a 1965 CBS news report describes the impetus and aftermath of the Watts Rebellion. As explained in the story, after two brothers, Marqueete and Ronald Frye, were pulled over by Los Angeles Police on August 11, 1965, there was a “scuffle” which brought several Black community members to the scene.  As “tales of police brutality spread through the community,” according to the reporter Bill Stout, riots ensued. The report includes footage from the riots over several days. Much of the footage focuses on the  damage to cars and property instigated by the rioters alongside attempts to create order among local police and national guard. The report concludes with a statement that “control of a sort was finally imposed.” The Watts Riots lasted six days, and ended with 34 deaths, over a 1,000 injuries, and almost 3,500 people arrested.


How does the reporter set the scene of the riots? What words does he use to describe and characterize the rioters and their actions?

What images do we see to accompany the reporter’s narration? What does the imagery focus on? Whose voices from the streets do we hear?

Los Angeles in the 1960s had a long history of violent policing against the Black community, racial segregation, and high rates of unemployment and underemployment in the Black community. None of these are mentioned in the news report. Why do you think that is?

How does this news footage compare to footage you’ve seen of other protests in the 21st century?

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