Wednesday, August 11, 2010

One Drunk Driver And Years of Frustration

Watts, Los Angeles, CA

Forty-five years ago today Lee Minikus of the CHP pulled over one Marquette Frye, 21, for reckless driving. Frye blew the sobriety test and Minikus arrested him. Frye's older brother Ronald was in the car. Minikus told him he couldn't take the car home two blocks away, so Ronald went to go grab their mom. By the time she arrived and started chewing out her son for drinking, quite a crowd had gathered.

That's when things fell apart.

Whether Frye didn't want to be shown up by his mom, look like a pussy in front of his neighbors, was too drunk to care, or, most likely, just couldn't take the bullshit anymore, he started yelling at the cops. Which got his brother and mom into the act and, not soon after, the crowd.

Which by this time had grown from a handful people to about a thousand.

And thus did the Watts Riots begin.

Five days, 3000 National Guardsmen, 34 dead, 1032 wounded and almost 4000 arrests later things went to relative calm.

Forty-five years after that and the place is still a pit.

People want decent jobs, respect, to live without being afraid. They want education, freedom from violence, a system that they can feel works for them and with them, rather than against them.

And if you go into Watts and ask around, listen to the LAPD helicopters overhead, look at the multitudes of liquor stores dotting street corners, you'll see the same frustration, despair and lack of jobs from 45 years ago.

It's important to remember things like this, whether it's Watts, Chicago, Jersey City, Rochester or wherever there's been a race riot. At some point the anger and frustration gets to be too much.

What's more important is that we fix the problems before they happen again.

3 comments:

Kirsten said...

I agree with your article, mostly. Having worked in Watts for going on seven years now I can tell you that change does not occur externally. I has to come from within. Watts doesn't change because the poor of Watts need to do initiate the change themselves. You can only save those who work to be saved.

Stephen Blackmoore said...

Absolutely agreed.

But it doesn't mean we couldn't, as a city, do some things to make it a little easier.

Rezone South L.A. to cut down on the liquor stores and encourage more businesses with tax breaks.

Invest in after school and social programs for kids, better LAUSD management.

Get a real anti-gang program going instead of this pass the buck hodge-podge we have now that relies more on using the injunction stick and throwing kids into juvie.

Granted, we could do all that, sink a bunch of money and time and expertise into making things happen and it still might not change.

But it's better than nothing.

Kerry said...

Well put, Stephen and Kirsten. I'm wondering (hoping?) if there have been studies made of relatively successful urban turnaround cases in other areas.

Ideally (he said with undue optimism) said studies might capture some of the quantifiable steps that produced measureable change (like rezoning; like blowing up, er, restructuring LAUSD; like changing the face of LAPD in the area from stick to carrot).

We know that rhetoric and injustice do nothing to introduce change. While I agree that real change must ultimately come from within the community and its members, the structural conditions that enable the possibility for such change can only be put into place by larger players. Let's hope.