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Remembering Watts Important

Anna Schneider

This week marks the 40th anniversary of what we commonly refer to as "the Watts riots." The violence that erupted in Watts in south central L.A. in the summer of 1965 is an incredibly important event to remember, especially because it gives us the opportunity to examine pressing issues that often fall under the mainstream media's radar. Issues like police brutality and racism within the military and police force; racial and social inequalities that today many of us simply seem content to live amongst, afraid to upset anyone with taboo topics; the gross injustices inflicted upon minority communities by the prison-industrial complex; opportunities for community-empowerment and re-building instead of just blaming the victims or the perpetrators… the list goes on. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, few mainstream media outlets took the opportunity to address any of these issues. I saw a news show on NBC last night that gave the anniversary a good thirty seconds of coverage and didn't even mention the word race.Which brings me to ponder our country's collective memory of the event. When I think of so-called "race riots" like Watts or the more recent uprisings sparked by police brutality and racial tension like those following the Rodney King beating or a senseless shooting of a young black man in Cincinnati, I see images of chaotic violence. It conjurs pictures of people running around like chickens with their heads cut off, stealing electronic equipment from burning stores. I think of senseless violence and riots. But, as Tommy Jacquette, a long-time resident of South-Central LA who witnessed the events first-hand in the summer of '65, told the L.A. Times People keep calling it a riot, but we call it a revolt because it had a legitimate purpose. It was a response to police brutality and social exploitation of a community and of a people, and we would no more call this a riot than Jewish people would call the extermination of the Jewish people 'relocation.' A riot is a drunken brawl at USC because they lost a football game.DemocracyNow.org's coverage of the anniversary similarly points outmainstream media coverage at the time portrayed the uprising only as lawless and destructive. There was little attempt to understand the reasons behind the rebellion and there were virtually no interviews with the rioters themselves. In fact, at the time of the riots, the L.A Times did not have one black reporter on its' staff.The naming and labeling done by the media has a huge historical and social impact. It's a shame we can't spend more than 30 seconds on the nightly news to discuss and commemorate such an important event.

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