In response to a routine traffic stop resulting in bloodshed, the Watts Riots erupt in Los Angeles.


For many years the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) expressed a more aggressive trend in surveillance towards communities of color in the region than they did other, more prominently-white communities. Black men in particular were targeted more for traffic stops and pedestrian stops by the agency. In 1965, a routine traffic stop by the LAPD of driver Marquette Frye resulted in a disturbance in which officers perceived Frye to be resisting arrest, and subsequently used force to arrest him. A massive crowd of onlookers gathered to witness the violence when it took place on the streets of Watts.

Frye’s arrest ignited anger within the black community over the treatment they had witnessed within the LAPD, leading to rioting. What became known as “the Watts Riots” led to millions in property damage in Long Beach alone, and the death of 34 people dead.

The events of the riots typecasted neighborhoods like Watts and North Long Beach as dangerous. Wealthier and more engaged residents chose to relocate out of these neighborhoods. For example in Downtown Long Beach, the white population declined by nearly 20% by the end of the 1970s.

Leading into the 1980s and 1990s, Long Beach struggled with crime.In 1982, the Los Angeles Times reported that “in addition to extreme Northwestern Long Beach, [downtown and the residential areas stretching into the central and western portions of the city]... show the highest levels of deteriorated housing and associated social ills.”

Sources we used and further reading on this era of Long Beach:

  • Robert J. Gore, “Issues: Hearings to focus on L.B. Housing Needs and Priorities,” Los Angeles Times, January 17, 1982.

  • Chris Woodyard, “Voters in Long Beach View Crime, Drugs as City’s Top 2 Problems,” Los Angeles Times, May 15, 1988.

  • “Changing Guard,” Los Angeles Times, March 29, 2015.

  • Jill A. Edy, “Watts Riots of 1965,” Brittanica.

  • Shaun Michael Mars, “Marquette Frye (1944-1986),” blackpast.org.


Image Caption

A National Guard soldier walks the streets of Watts in the aftermath of the Watts Riots in 1965. Photo courtesy of KCET.