To many, the events that began in Watts on Aug. 11, 1965, remain simply a riot – a social breakdown into mob rule and criminality. To others, they were a rebellion – a violent but justified leap into a future of black self-empowerment, reports the Los Angeles Times. To mark the 40th anniversary of the riots, the Times asked nine people, all of whom witnessed the events firsthand, to recount their memories of six days that changed their lives and the course of the city. They include a rioter, a business owner, a Highway Patrol officer, a National Guardsman, ordinary residents and a newspaper reporter.
The riots that summer were sparked by the arrest of a black motorist, Marquette Frye, for drunk driving. When Frye’s mother intervened, a crowd gathered and the arrest became a flashpoint for anger against police. The deeper causes, as documented by the investigating commission, were poverty, inequality, racial discrimination. After nearly a week of rioting, 34 people, 25 of them black, were dead and more than 1,000 were injured. More than 600 buildings were damaged or destroyed.