There are several news stories and opinion pieces aiming to find symmetry between the riots in Ferguson last week and the civil rights riots in Watts in 1965. While both were riots and both involved African Americans, they are not similar. And, any comparison between the two that results in the riots being equal, is insulting to the brave Americans who suffered in Watts.

In 1965, the town of Watts (a neighborhood of Los Angeles) was populated with African Americans who were largely confined to slum-like living conditions. There were no pre-school programs, no low-income housing options, no job training programs, limited health care, lack of public transportation, and many other inequities. In addition to their poor living conditions, African Americans were routinely subjected to violence, bombings, arson, and burning crosses.

On August 11, 1965, an African American man driving in Watts was pulled over and arrested by the LAPD for drunk driving. A crowd gathered as the arrest was happening and things turned violent. The violence and the riots lasted for six days, resulting in 34 deaths, thousands of injuries, and millions of dollars in damages. These protests were about equality - something that was severely lacking in Watts in 1965.

African Americans were publicly denied high-paying jobs, housing, and political opportunities in Watts in 1965. Today, African Americans have the equality to hold executive positions, live in any suburb they please, and run for elected office. The current President of the United States is an African American. How can some people still claim that nothing has changed in America since the 1960s?

The Watts riots are considered a significant turning point in the civil rights movement. On the other hand, the Ferguson riots are a disappointing turn backwards. The Ferguson riots aren't about social justice, equality, or overcoming a blatant barrier to freedom. The Ferguson riots are about giving voice to an invented injustice. Mike Brown committed a crime. He wasn't refused entry to school, or a restaurant, or a job. He robbed a store and assaulted a clerk. Let's not aggrandize one criminal act into an unnecessary national fight for equality.


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