Structured Unrest: The Rumford Act, Proposition 14, and the Systematic Inequality that Created the Watts Riots

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If “you keep telling people that they are unfairly treated and teach them disrespect for the law,” Chief William Parker told reporters in the aftermath of the Watts Riots, then violence is inevitable. Parker’s commentary, an attempt to deflect his own department’s culpability for the civil unrest veered into increasingly racist territory. In Parker’s worldview, trouble only started “when one person threw a rock, and like monkeys in a zoo, others started throwing rocks.” Calls by assemblyman Mervyn Dymally for a civilian police review board were little more than a “vicious canard,” argued the imperious police chief.[1]

The legacy of the riots, fifty years old next year, has reverberated throughout Los Angeles and Southern California history and its echoes can still be heard today. Undoubtedly, the riots accelerated white flight from communities like Compton, where ironically, black, white, and Latino residents had repelled looters. While discrimination persisted in…

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