In the predominantly black Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, racial tension reaches a breaking point after two white policemen scuffle with a black motorist suspected of drunken driving. A crowd of spectators gathered near the corner of Avalon Boulevard and 116th Street to watch the arrest and soon grew angry by what they believed to be yet another incident of racially motivated abuse by the police. A riot soon began, spurred on by residents of Watts who were embittered after years of economic and political isolation. The rioters eventually ranged over a 50-square-mile area of South Central Los Angeles, looting stores, torching buildings, and beating whites as snipers fired at police and firefighters. Finally, with the assistance of thousands of National Guardsmen, order was restored on August 16.
The five days of violence left 34 dead, 1,032 injured, nearly 4,000 arrested, and $40 million worth of property destroyed. The Watts riot was the worst urban riot in 20 years and foreshadowed the many rebellions to occur in ensuing years in Detroit, Newark, and other American cities.