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1965 Watts Riots

Gregg Reese | 8/11/2010, 5 p.m.

This led to more rumors alleging police abuse, and for the rest of the evening the crowd proceeded to stone passing cars, in some cases pulling White motorists from their vehicles to beat them, resulting in more arrests. A series of meetings held the following day to try to neutralize the atmosphere fizzled out, and the police set up a mobile command post near the conflict's focal point while Chief William Parker called on the National Guard (NG) for assistance. By midnight of that Thursday, roving bands had begun throwing rocks and looting local businesses, and Lt. Governor Glenn Anderson (sitting in for Governor Pat Brown who was in Greece) was informed that as many as 8,000 rioters were roaming the streets of Watts, as firemen arriving in the area to extinguish three burning cars were pummeled with rocks.

That Friday the 13th, Parker and Mayor Sam Yorty requested for 1,000 guardsmen to be deployed, because the business district of Watts was besieged by some 3,000 people who began to methodically burn a wide section of 103rd Street (later dubbed "Charcoal Alley") to the ground. The first fatality, a bystander shot in an exchange of gunfire between police and rioters, was recorded by 7 p.m. For the remainder of the night police escorted as many as 100 engine companies of firefighters into the area, as snipers took pot shots at them while they battled flames.

By the end of the following day Saturday, a full contingent of nearly 14,000 NG troops, more then a division, were in place to augment the police and sheriff's deputies in addressing the emergency. On Sunday, the turmoil settled down as the final tally read 34 dead, thousands more arrested or injured, and a property loss of some $40 million. Other isolated areas reporting burning, looting, or rioting in general included Pasadena, Pacoima out in the San Fernando Valley, and sections of Long Beach. By the following Tuesday a Watts-area curfew had been lifted and a few hundred guardsmen remained for clean-up as authorities argued about how much the chaos had been planned or just erupted spontaneously.