Hundreds of city officials gathered to reflect on Watts 50 years after the 1965 revolt at Charles R. Drew University for a Symposium that lasted from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Aug 15.
The discussions included an hour of reflection, which then broke off into four workshops. The workshops focused on Politics, Education, Arts and Healthcare throughout Watts. Some of the speakers included Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Director John Singleton and Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.
“I thought it was a critically important event. 50 years later, we’re trying to learn and go forward with the lessons from the past,” said Jody Armour, a professor at the University of Southern California (USC) Law School.
During the reflection period, speakers drew comparison between the Watts riots of 1965 and the Los Angeles riots of 1992 along with the Ferguson riots of 2014. Speakers took a look at the language of rather these were riots or revolts. Instead of looking at the uprisings, they looked at the causes.
“This was one of the few places in LA where Black people were allowed to live. What you had in Watts was disrespect, lack of employment and sense that you were not a part of what was supposed to be the United States of America,” said Dr. David Horne, Chairman of the Department of Africana Studies at California State University Northridge. “When you look back to 1965, less than 30 percent of the Watts citizens were voting because the voting rights act had just been signed. People who are continuously disrespect are eventually going to explode.”
Along with the causes of the Watts 1965 uprising, the speakers also took a look at the effects. While many agreed that violence isn’t the answer, they could also understand the positive impacts that it had on Watts today.
“I can appreciate the frustration that took place in this community. What happened 50 years ago had to happen,” said Assemblyman Mike Gipson. “When you look at what transpired, we didn’t have a mayor or a police chief that would even give a damn about what was happening in Watts. What came out of this is people trying to organize themselves.”
Speakers also took a look at how the racial demographics of Watts have changed. In 1965, the population was nearly 80 percent Black, while it is majority Latino. Even though the racial demographics have changed, many of the conditions have remained that same. This brings awareness to looking at the condition opposed to the people.
“One of the important ideas that came out was how to think about the problems,” Armour said. “Are they problems of lack of personal responsibility or is it rather structural and systemic problems? These two create very different sets of solutions.”
The workshops dove into more specific topics of Education, Health, Politics and Arts. The education panel tackled the relationships between the police and the youth, finding solutions such as having community cookouts with the officers. The health workshop looked at mental health and deinstitutionalization, which are often times forgotten about. The politics workshop took a look at the lack of public policy, while the Arts workshop took a look at how to infuse art with technology.
“It was very informative, some great collective minds coming together in service for the community,” said Director John Singleton who participated in the Arts panel. “This will really help build our youth in a different direction. We’re in the age of technical advances and our youth should be learning about how to come up with apps. It’s great and beautiful for all of these people to come together and try to make something happen.”
One of the focal solutions that was talked about was the idea of a new attraction. The Watts Towers have been around for the last 60 years and many of the community officials say that it is time for something new.
“People come by the hundreds of thousands to see the Watts Towers, but they don’t come back because they’ve already seen that,” said Tim Watkins, president and chief executive officer of the Watts Labor Community Action Committee. “You have to have another reason for people to come.”
The day was full of discussion on how far the Watts community has come, but more on what has yet to come, as conditions are still similar and citizens continue to feel disrespected by the lack of public policy.
“If you’re not talking about accepting that everyone in the room is worthwhile, if you’re not talking about how everyone in the room needs to feel accepted, then you’re wasting your damn time because there will be another explosion,” said Horne. “You cannot keep treating people badly and not expect a reaction. Watts was a reaction and the reaction continues.”