Past Is Present: 50 Years After the Watts Rebellion, Ferguson’s Crisis Confirms Delusions of ‘Progress’ and ‘Change’
Fifty years ago today, the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, a tinderbox smoldering for decades under the yoke of poverty, disfranchisement, governmental indifference, and militarized police oppression, exploded in a cathartic rage. The heavy-handed arrest of a black motorist by white cops for drunk driving was the spark that set Watts aflame for six days and transformed it into a war zone—claiming 34 lives; causing more than $40 million in property damage; adding 4,000 National Guards, 934 city cops and 71 sheriffs to the city’s police force; causing about 3,500 arrests.
Half a century later, Ferguson, Missouri, is under its second state of emergency as the mostly black town of 21,000 observes the anniversary of the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown by former police officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9 last year.
Mainstream media, until yesterday, were touting headlines and news stories about “change.” But our guest, Dr. Gerald Horne, a diplomatic scholar, historian, attorney and prolific author, draws stark parallels between Watts and Ferguson.
Horne is the John J. and Rebecca Moores chair of history and African American studies at the University of Houston. He has written more than 30 books, and more than 100 scholarly papers and reviews, on struggles against imperialism, colonialism, fascism and racism. Pertinent to our discussion today is his authoritative account and analysis of the Watts Rebellion, Fire This Time, The Watts Uprising and the 1960s.