tv America Tonight Al Jazeera August 15, 2015 9:00pm-9:31pm EDT
their neighbors may prove to stick. america tonight is next. "america tonight" is next. [ ♪ music ] good evening, i'm michael oku, this is a special edition of "america tonight". this evening we focus our lens on a 1300 acre scratch of south los angeles, it was referred to as a cattle ranch, then a major good evening., then a major this neighborhood in south los angeles was once referred to as a cattle ranch and then a major railroad junction. at one point nicknamed mud town for the many dirt roads that remained unpaveed. but after 1965, very few would
call it anything but want. decades later, that one syllable symbolic for all that can go wrong in america. frustration simmering for years between the residents and police came to a boiling point which started as a routine traffic start exploded into a full-blown race war that raged for six days. the riot, one of the deadliest in the nation's history, spread well beyond the borders and served as a wakup calls for those in power and the powerless. tonight on the 50th anniversary of the riot, we examined what, if anything, was learned from those very tough lessons decades ago. >> the economic depravation, social isolation, inadequate housing, and general dispair of thousands in northern and
western ghettos give birth to tragic expresses of violence. >>reporter: martin luther king, jr., addressing the media in los angeles the day the riot was finally suppressed. by the time calm returned to the streets of south los angeles, that unforgettable summer in 1965, 34 people had lost their lives and more than a thousand were injured. 50 years ago, those seeds of protest dr. king referenced spread to life on a wednesday just after 7:00 o'clock right on the corner of avalon boulevard and 16th street. it was a hot summer day and that night residents were still milling about the streets when a white highway patrol officer pulled over a black motorist. he believed the driver was driving drunk and stopped him a few blocks from his home.
before long the crowd had become an angry mob. they had just witness what had they believed was an all-too-common occurrence there, use of excessive force by police. decades of rage and frustration finally exploded. more than 46 square miles of south los angeles would be under siege with rampant looting, violence, and arson. six days of rioting left behind scen scenes of war torn cities. burn baby burn was the cry in the unrelenting wave of unrest. regina jones has tried to forget it. born and raised in watts, she has not been back in years. >> i grew up playing on the watts towers. i had cousins that lived across the street and we would go over
to the watts towers and climb them. >>reporter: regina was a young mother of five when the chaos consumed her neighborhood. the home where she raised her children was just blocks from ground zero. but in addition to being a resident, a member of the community, she was also a dispatcher for the lapd. >>reporter: you're 22 years old. >> a young adult working at the police department. i saw racism there. i remember a white officer letting a door slam in my face and i remember sitting next to this little old white lady with white hair that looked like whistler's mother. she says have you ever seen my dog? i said, your dog? no. and she brought out a picture and showed me. i said he's adorable and she said his name is nigger. he's black. >>reporter: author aand political -- racism was rampant
within the department in those days. >> you have to remember this was in an era when the majority of the los angeles police department was not only white guys but from the south. and they were recruited directly from the south and the military. >>reporter: to say the relationship between the community and the police seemed by most accounts -- the situation was like a powder keg. >> you're dealing with an already frustrated community. >> you're dealing with not only a frustrated community but an angered community. you've got an occupying army, the lapd were seen as that. the alienation factor. the sense there's a disconnect and no one cares. you can see right away, those are a lot of elements for
combustion right there. >>reporter: regina was one of the first to watch it ignite. were you working august 11th, 1965. >> not only was i working, i was working 77th division station and i was sitting there when i heard officer needs help. officer needs help. >>reporter: that was the first call? >> that's the first call and then i remember feeling sick. right now i feel sick. >>reporter: right now? >> yeah, right now. i remember then thinking officer, please come in, identify yourself. who are you? is where are you? identify yourself and then me screaming to the police officers in the center of what we call the horse shoe. >>reporter: you feel like you have their lives in your hands. >> his life was in my hands and then he came back and there's
all this scuffling and sounds and he identified himself. >>reporter: what was that moment like when this officer goes down and you know that there is something brewing in the community that is not an everyday occurrence? >> the fear of the fact it was so close to my home and that my kids, where were they? the house here? my mother's across the street? where were my children. where was my husband? >>reporter: just 18 and fearless at the time, he had to see the pandemonium for himself. >>reporter: you actually came down by yourself to this street corner. >> we walked over here and at that point crowds were gathering up and down the street. stores were boarded up. the store owners at that point were evacuating because the word went out get out of the neighborhood if you're white which they did. the stores were empty and then
people started looting before the burning started. people were going into stars and we heard about that and came over here. >>reporter: as soon as her shift ended, regina jones left to check on her kids. the family that lives there now allowed us to come inside. >> there were win odows in the front and i needed to feel safe with the kids. we went into the bedroom and i put the kids in a closet. i had them in the closet and there were two sets of bunk beds with no windows so i wasn't worried. so the any place that anything would happen was there if there were gun fire out front. >>reporter: you were afraid it would come through the windows? >> yes. i was frightened to death. >>reporter: it wasn't just the residents that were scared. members of the national guard who were called in to help
restore order were frightened too. many of the citizen soldiers were 18 years old. >> they were in fatigues with their uniforms fixed with bayonettes and this is burned in my memory. looking in their faces they had complete state power but i also saw fear and uncertainty. what are they afraid of? they're afraid of us. >> when i pulled off the harper freeway, all these young national guard are just everywhere in military uniforms and with guns drawn and i'm thinking to myself if a car backfires, he might shoot me. that was when the total fear hit me. >>reporter: regina jones' fear
wasn't paranoia. she witnessed the national guard soldiers firing on residents who were trying to escape. >> you just see fire. >>reporter: what else did you see here? >> fear, anger, just complete out of control. >>reporter: did you see buildings burning? >> only this one. only shop rite market right over here. and i had a friend who worked there, jim, he died in the looting. >>reporter: my goodness. >> i was heartbreaking. this was someone i actually knew who died, burned up in that fire. >>reporter: once the flames and violence finally down died, then governor pat brown created a commission to look into the factors that led to the week-long deadly up rising. the commission came back with
three recommendations. form an emergency program designed to raise the level of academic atanment and have law enforcement work on dealing with community complaints and community relationships. >> i think people are more afraid of police officers today than they were back then. i truly believe that. i think there's more poverty. there's more homelessness. there's more of all the things that just break up families and people, take their souls away today than there was 50 years ago. i think it's much worse. 50 years ago, we could dream. i don't see the dreams anymore. i think people have lost the ability to dream. >>reporter: arguably, nothing stays the same. but you can see many of the same conditions. 50 years ago, that triggered a watts. you can still see today many of the same conditions here. high unemployment. police. housing.
welcome back to a special edition of "america tonight", riot. welcome back. the lack of access to quality medical care was one of the main grievances in watts. two of the eight hospitals in the area met quality standards. i recently visited an a hospital in the area. >> you got shot? >> my wife. >> by the time the ambulance got here, he was already dead. the lady down the street there. her boy. he got shot. he died. he died before they could get him to the hospital. >>reporter: for more than six
decades, sweet alice harris has called this block deep in the heart of watts home. in 1965, she watched the streets around her go up in flames as residents destroyed their own community after years of burning resentment over rising racial tensions and scarce public services. >> they needed jobs and they needed medical facilities in this area. we've lost, i know, three children with asthma. >>reporter: kids were dying who had asthma. >> yes. >>reporter: because they had to go too far. >> on a bus. >>reporter: to get to a hospital. >> very few people had cars here. you want to kill a community, kill the medical. that kills a community. >>reporter: a 101-page report was released citing insufficient and inaccessible medical care as one of the underlying causes of
the riot. >> governor brown was so upset. you got a big community like this and no medical facilities. so he went to washington to get a vote out. it must be a hospital on these grounds at all times. that's how we got martin luther king, jr., hospital. >>reporter: it opened its doors in 1972 to a long-forgotten community that had seen too much suffering and too little care. >> that was heaven. you could walk there. your children didn't have to suffer no longer. whatever happens, you get to martin luther king hospital, you're going to live. >> there's a clear sign of accomplishment. >>reporter: mark thomas is on the county board of supervisors. he represents 2 million people in south l.a.'s second district
including watts. >> the hospital was a very important step forward. it was a way of saying that the watts up rising was frankly something that could have been and should have been avoided. >>reporter: but within a few years, that hope dimmed. amid mounting horror stories of patient neglect and medical incompetence. patients were dying and needlessly. the facility soon got the nickname of killing king. >> she's dying and nurses don't want to help. >>reporter: this video shows patien patients nurses standing around while a woman lay suffering on the floor of the er for 40
minutes before she died >> it's medical malpractice. these are circumstances those working there who work hard do not wish to hear but the facts are what they are. the patients were being compromised and there's no excuse and it resulted in the hospital being closed. >> with them closing it, it looked as if martin luther king had died again. that hurt. that really hurt. we was promised. if i talk about that too much, i'll cry. >>reporter: be people throw up their arms and say you gave us heaven and now you give us hell? >> they had a riot to get the hospital. not going to have another riot. not going to do that. we're going to find a way to get that hospital back. >>reporter: the voices of the community were very, very clear
act. >> the medical campus features state of the art facilities that provide preventive care. 900 patients are served at this facility every day. >> this hospital was really built with the idea of patient comfort and modern equipment. >> i want to show you an emergency department room. this machine tells the pharmacy when a dose is done and so they know that they need to send up another dose. >> this device houses the translation and they can connect it to 238 languages available on our list. >> what does this mean to the community? >> i think it's a sign that the community really does care about them but it's not just the people in the beverly hills that are entitled to the best care.
why not here? >> beverly hills ain't got nothing that big or that pretty. >> martin luther king made it abundantly clear. it's well overdue that the name of martin luther king and hospital be restored to the level that it deserves; namely to honor the man whose tradition we stand. >>reporter: could you describe the difference between watts in 1965 and 2015. >> in 1965, we didn't have medical facilities. now we do did the that makes it different because we don't have to worry about our children with asthma dying. don't have to worry about our young children getting shot and
they die. >>reporter: the martin luther king, jr., community hospital will service more than a million residentsing in south l.a. they will not turn away anyone regardless of their ability to pay. coming up, stunning images captured by a photographer a year after the riot. >> choosing a path. >> if i'm not sharing the gospel, then i feel empty inside because that's the gift that god has given me. >> deciding their own future. >> i'm pretty burnt out... if i said that i'm perfectly fine, i would be lying. >> oscar winner alex gibney's "edge of eighteen". the powerful conclusion.
community. a famed photographer captured not only the residents but those who soldiered on. we caught up with him in new york city to capture his reflections of that time in american history. >> i'm bill ray. i became a professional photographer in 1953. i came to work for life in 1957. >> this is los angeles. 34 dead, 800 injured. >> this is kind on the floor a typical shot that you can see almost anyone. police cars jam pull of troops. the lights on. shotguns out the whip doe. this was typical poverty. that's post war america 1965. that's not the depression down
in the hill billy country. there was a lot of rubble in watts. dozens of buildings looked like berlin in 1945. >> everybody thinks you're a cop or the enemy. this is a group of young men. it may sound like a gang and they were in a way a type of gang. in this photo i found a westminster neighborhood center and these are some of the kids that hung around there. i think trying to stay out of
trouble. i got to know them and got them to trust me. so we would go around and this is a day i think we were on our way to watts tower. they grew up there. they all freely admitted to taking part in the riot. the hopelessness struck me. the poverty and the hopelessness when i saw where they lived and how they lived. it was appalling and you can't help but your heart go out to them. you don't think of it as being post war america. you know, you think of a third world sort of thing. you're not used to seeing that sort of thing in the united states and not hollywood and los angeles with palm trees. you got to admire the clothes. the red socks and very supporty
blood brother, letting everybody know that a brother who owned the store and not to burn it down. as poor as these kids are and lack of schooling, i maintain there's dignity in their faces and their lives. that's evident in the pictures. i like that. people in my generation thought you could do anything in america and why the hell we couldn't change this, i don't know. >>reporter: it's important to know that many people here in south l.a. refer to the riot as an up rising or rebellion. it's a clear indication that in this part of l.a., people view this social movement as a way to change and others see it
reflecting raw anger. that's it for america tonight. we'll see you tomorrow. then at 8:00, john seigenthaler digs deeper into the stories of the day. and at 9:00, get a global perspective. weeknights, on al jazeera america. this is techknow. a show about innovations that can change lives. the science of fighting a wild-fire. we're going to explore the intersection of hardware and humanity and we're doing it in a unique way. this is a show about science, by scientists. tonight, techknow investigates the ivory trail they've tried to seize it, burn it, but nothing has stopped the terrible trade in illegal ivory. now new tools... strait from the lab that could fight