It’s hard to believe that it’s been 46 years since Aug. 11, 1965, the day the Watts uprising began.
I’ll never forget the fear I felt watching the chaos unfold. I was shocked but not surprised: you could feel the anger and frustration building up during that hot summer.
The booming California economy was providing little opportunity for people of color. Public policy was benefiting the already fortunate and was leaving behind those who were already disadvantaged.
In California, as in the rest of the country, African American and Latino families were reaching a boiling point that could not be contained any longer. Over the following two years, there were a number of additional riots in Chicago, Newark, Detroit and elsewhere.
Today in Watts and across California people are feeling that familiar angry bubbling stirring up as the gap between rich and poor grows ever wider. During this time, it is important that we recall the lessons from that turbulent period in our nation’s past.
Two years after the riots broke out, President Lyndon Johnson established The Kerner Commission to try to understand what happened and what could be done to prevent further occurrences.
The resulting document, known as the Kerner Report, recommended that people from all walks of life have more equal access in four major areas: jobs, education, housing and services.
Unfortunately, the inequality of 46 years ago is all too familiar today.
To be sure, there have been areas of progress. The Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 outlawed discriminatory banking practices and redlining. This helped give millions of minority families like mine the opportunity to fulfill the American Dream through homeownership.
But that dream has slowly turned into a nightmare for some in the last decade. I knew something was wrong a decade ago when my mailbox began to get filled on a daily basis with offers that seemed too good to be true. The pamphlets were from realtors, brokers and lenders who were selling predatory loans. These subprime loans turned out to be a chance for loan sharks to make a buck by pushing them on my elderly and minority neighbors, whether they needed them or not.
One Wells Fargo loan officer recently testified publicly to the widespread practice of steering subprime loans, cynically referred to as “ghetto loans,” to borrowers with good credit.
According to a recent report, “Homewreckers,” the loss to homeowners, the property tax base, and local governments amounts to at least $650 billion.
Many of us feel as frustrated today as we did in 1965. Yet, as was the case 46 years ago, there is an opportunity for elected officials and Wall Street to address the problems. Key among them is the growing number of mortgage holders who now owe more than their houses are worth. Today, 23 percent of homeowners are underwater, including as many as 35 percent of African American homeowners and 41 percent of Hispanics.
Lyneva Mottley grew up in Watts and has lived there for more than 50 years. She is the acting chair of the Watts chapter of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE).