Watts in Retrospect
Forty-five years later, an eyewitness looks back at the uprising that ignited South Los Angeles. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
My heart was beating so loudly that I was afraid they could hear it and would mistake it for something threatening. I held my breath until they finished looking me over and exchanging a few words before telling me to be careful.
Once home, I told my mother that I was not going to work the next day.
Just before dawn, Ken came home, ashen, dirty and tired. He fell asleep telling me about what he had seen. He handed me his notes scratched on the back of a used manila envelope.
"I'm located in the heart of Watts observing the looters at work in what is left of the Watts area," he had written. "I think it advisable to give you these facts. First, although the rioters today are moving westward towards the LaBrea, Rodeo area, I've learned that tonight the City of Compton is the next target. ... The pattern of the rioters seems fully concentrated against Jewish owned businesses ..."
He closed that report with, " ... the rioters continue to shout the same hysterical chant, 'Burn, baby, burn,' which is used by a Negro disc jockey on a Los Angeles radio station. And the City of Angels is doing just that."
The third night of the riots, I was home when the violence came as close as one block away. ShopRite, the neighborhood grocery store that I walked to with my children every day, went up in flames. My neighbors and I hosed down our roofs, hoping that none of the sparks would land and set our small World War II-era tract houses on fire.
I stood outside and watched as neighbors ran down the street carrying groceries, one old woman dragging a large bag of dog food. It was hotter than hell with the blaze so close, and I had to scream at the children to stay inside. No sooner had I gone back inside than I heard popping sounds. I looked out the window and saw two men on the sidewalk in front of my house running and pointing guns. Police yelled back, "Halt!" I dropped to the floor, more frightened than I had been up to that point.