Watts Remembrance: 40 Years After the Riots

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The intersection at 116th Street and Avalon Boulevard is often referred to as the flash point or epicenter of the 1965 Watts riot, but for Tommy Jacquette, it was simply a place to “kick it.”

Forty years ago today, at an apartment complex seemingly untouched by time, Jacquette was hanging out with the other “young bloods” of the block playing Bid Whiz and drinking beer on a blistering summer evening in August. It was an hour or so after the frenetic arrest of 21-year-old Marquette Frye, and the neighborhood was enraged.

“There was a lot of people in the street talking about what they had seen and there was definitely some anger and frustration with the police because people were just sick of being abused,” Jacquette said.

Frye had been pulled over by LAPD officers for allegedly driving under the influence. He parked his car on Avalon Boulevard, just a few yards from his mother’s home at the time.

“Back in those days you drove to someplace you knew so that if anything happened with police, you’d have some witnesses,” Jacquette said. “That’s what Marquette must have done.”

According to eye witness accounts, Frye was roughed up, and when his mother Rena and her other son Ronald tried to intervene, they were hit with batons and arrested too.

“People were really upset with how (the police) treated his mother and sister. All you could hear was, ‘How could they do her like that?’ People were really upset over how the officers treated the women,” Jacquette said. “But that was how the police was, how the white boys do it, as a matter of business, like routine activity. They mistreated and abused everyone they stopped back then in Watts.”

With the 40th anniversary of the riot (uprising, revolt or rebellion depending on whom you talk to), and controversial police shootings once again in the news, many, including Jacquette, are asking the questions: Has anything changed? Has progress been made?

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