The Watts Riot
What were the Watts Riots exactly?
In the summer of 1965, in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, Highway Patrol Officer Lee Minikis pulled over 21 year old African-American driver Marquette Frye for suspected intoxication. After a sobriety test, Minikus arrested Frye who also was missing a valid driver’s license. Frye’s brother was a passenger in the car, and soon his mother Rena Frye arrived on scene. Rena was quick to berate his son for his recklessness, thus Marquette grew angry and did not comply with the officer’s demands. As another officer reached the scene, he tried to use force to get Frye into the car by striking him with a baton. A crowd began to gather, and the events continued to escalate. It was reported that the three Fryes each physically attacked the officers, which ended in their arrest. More police officers continued to arrive on sight, and ultimately the Fryes were driven away in the back of a cop car. This sparked a violent riot among the crowd, who shouted angry slurs at and spit on the police cars as they drove away. The anger did not end here.
The Watts Riots were a product of building racial tensions and extreme angst among the black population in Watts. Looting, and rioting continued for six days, and expanded beyond the one-mile radius of Watts itself. Angry rioters shot at pedestrians and law enforcement officials as well as LAPD helicopters. When the violence ultimately died down, the damages ranked among the most devastating in American history. In terms of physical property, approximately $40 million was lost in damages. Rioters destroyed a thousand buildings, killed 34 people and injuring an additional thousand. Four thousand rioters were arrested.
Not only were the Watts Riots significant in American civil rights, they were a monumental event that spurred a need for a more militaristic police force. The riots were disorderly, extremely threatening, and monstrous in effect. As people all over the nation watched, fear of a rising criminal class was instilled in them. However, perhaps the most frightening aspect of all was the ineptitude of the LAPD to deal with such a catastrophe. Daryl Gates, a well-ranked LAPD officer recalls, “We had no idea how to deal with this…We were constantly ducking bottles, rocks, knives, and Molotov cocktails…Guns were pointed out of second-story windows, random shots fired… It was random chaos…We did not know how to handle guerrilla warfare. Rather than a single mob we had people attacking from all directions”. This one event made it clear that if the police were to adequately protect their respective cities from this type of violence, which after it occurred in Watts seemed plausible to Americans, a more militarized police force was necessary.
Texas Tower Shooting
The Texas Tower Shooting, directly lead to a stark change in American policing. On August 11, 1966, Charles Whitman, an ex marine and engineering student at the University of Texas at Austin, killed his own mother and wife to supposedly “spare them the embarrassment of what was to come,” according to a note left at the scene. He then arrived on campus, at approximately 11:00 AM, with a shotgun, three rifles and sufficient ammunition. Whitman disguised himself as a University maintenance man and went immediately to the twenty seventh floor, killing any tourists or receptionists in his way. He then barricaded the door, and began to open fire on the innocent people below. His marine background allowed him to shoot with an extreme precision, shooting people at reasonably far distances as well as in cars and behind walls. No one was safe from the terror, and the Austin police were helpless. Whitman was in a difficult position to access and his weaponry was far superior. After about 90 minutes of shooting an officer was able to shoot Whitman, but by that time the damage was done. Thirteen lay dead as a result and more than thirty were injured.
The Texas Tower Shooting was monumental partly due to its location. The fear in America against the criminal class was mostly constrained to Urban Areas. Whitman’s act on a college campus set the fear that the suburbs were at mercy to this type of violence as well. Also, this was not an action of racially spurred violence, and the victimization was random thus sending the message that it could have been anyone. Massacres were no longer a strictly urban concept. The helplessness of the Austin Police, caused police forces around the nation to question their preparedness in such a situation. Since the events in Austin in 1966, almost every police force has created a unit to respond to such situations. The modern SWAT concept came to be due to the Texas Tower Shootings.