Watts Community Members Use Riots Anniversary to Push For Change

Residents said that many community concerns linger a half century after the riots.

With just weeks until the 50th anniversary of the Watts Riots, area residents met Thursday to address unfulfilled promises they said have been made to the community.

Community members gathered at the corner of East 103rd Street and Graham Avenue, where a vacant piece of property they said was meant to be a movie theater has sat empty for 15 years.

"There is no reason why this property should still be vacant," resident Timothy McDaniel said. "There are over 20 vacant lots within two-and-a-half square miles."

The property is controlled by Watts resident Barbara Stanton, who said construction plans for a 33,000-square-foot theater and entertainment industry job training center have been approved, but funding has fallen through twice in the past 15 years.

City officials said they now hope to take back control of the property because other parties are interested in developing it into a project that will be beneficial to the community..

"We want simple things, restaurants in the community," resident Kevin Collins said. "We want a movie theater in the community. If we get businesses in the community, there’s jobs in the community."

As community members prepare to mark the 50th anniversary of the Watts Riots, members of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment want to use the milestone to call attention to what hasn’t changed in the community in the past half century.

The six-day-long riots, which began on August 11, 1965 and resulted in 34 deaths and $40 million in damage, were fueled in part by community frustration about a lack of affordable housing, few educational and employment opportunities, and racial tensions with police.

Thursday's event was the second in a yearlong series organized by the community group to address employment opportunities, pedestrian safety, illegal trash dumping and other community improvements residents say have been promised but have gone unfulfilled.

"We want all politicians to understand, we're not standing for this," resident Tommy Beard said. "We want change, and we want it right now.”

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