During the summer of 1965 in the Los Angeles suburb of Watts, racial tensions exploded after a white police officer roughed up 21-year-old black motorist Marquette Frye during a traffic stop for suspicion of drunk driving, and angry onlookers began throwing rocks and concrete at police.
The resulting mayhem over the next few days prompted the deployment of nearly 4,000 National Guardsmen. When the fires had died, and the smoke cleared, 34 people were dead and about 4,000 had been arrested.
Almost two years later, John W. Smith, a black taxicab driver in Newark, New Jersey, was arrested after a minor traffic violation. Witnesses said police beat him severely and then dragged him from the police car into the police station, leaving him with serious injuries.
A protest followed, at first peaceful, then violent, with citizens hurling Molotov cocktails at the police station. Chaos ensued and over the next few nights 26 people were killed, about 1,500 were arrested and around $10 million in property was damaged.
Decades later, in 1991, police pulled over black motorist Rodney King, 25, for reckless driving in Los Angeles. This time there was just one witness — but that witness had a powerful new tool, a video camcorder.
The resulting images of police officers mercilessly beating King shocked the nation when the videotaped brutality hit the evening broadcast news.
A year later, a jury acquitted three officers directly involved and deadlocked on charges against a fourth. Within hours, the biggest uprising in any 20th-century American city engulfed Los Angeles, with more than 50 deaths, thousands of arrests, and an estimated $1 billion in property damage.
Now, more than 24 years later, another grim confrontation between police and a black driver has not only repeated itself, it once again preceded a whole new level of lethal violence.
Last week, police pulled over black motorist Philando Castile, 32, in suburban St. Paul, Minn. for a busted tail light and then killed him outright with several bullets. His girlfriend, Lavish “Diamond” Reynolds, had a smartphone and as she sat next to Castile, she streamed the immediate aftermath of the shooting live on Facebook.
The very next evening in Dallas, a sniper with an assault rifle killed police officers Lorne Ahrens, 48, Michael Krol, 40, Michael Smith, 55, Brent Thompson, 43, and Patrick Zamarripa, 32, and wounded seven more at a Black Lives Matter protest. The black sniper, Micah Xavier Johnson, 25 – a former Army soldier who served in Afghanistan — was surrounded before being killed by a C4 explosives deployed by a police robot, the first such use of a robot with deadly force deployed on U.S. soil.
24 hours later, hundreds marched with Black Lives Matter in San Francisco down Market Street, from the Embarcadero to the Civic Center, to protest police shootings while chanting and shouting slogans like:
“If we don’t get no justice, they don’t get no peace!”
When they got to City Hall, they were met by a line of police officers behind metal barricades. And the protesters stopped there to hold a rally.
Larry Dorsey, of the group Justice for Mario Woods, said:
“I hear people who dispute what’s on camera, when this has been going on for five hundred years. How can you dispute this? When did this stop? … This ain’t new. The cameras is new. I’ve been getting harassed by the police since I was eleven years old. I was born and raised here in San Francisco.”
“People see the videos of us getting killed; they don’t want to acknowledge that. They don’t want to acknowledge our humanity. When have they? … When did they love us? When did the racism stop?”
Shani Harris-Bagwell spoke directly to the police officers in front of City Hall:
“It is not the responsibility of the oppressed to tell their oppressors the best way to stop oppressing them. It is your responsibility to look at yourself. It is your responsibility to look at your life.”
Another group of people who had been tagging along with the Black Lives Matter demonstrators, and when the protesters chanted “black lives matter” they responded “all lives matter.”
Ashley Love, a self-described trans advocate with Black Trans Women’s Lives Matter, addressed them directly at one point:
“I just think that’s really offensive and disrespectful because we already know your life matters. You’re not the one getting murdered in the streets. It is black men and black women. … You are disrespecting a powerful movement of black people who are saying ‘our humanity matters. Our lives matter. Stop killing us in the streets.’”