LOS ANGELES – There were no fires this time in Watts. There was no looting, no shooting and no National Guard troops patrolling.
Protesters filled the streets around the country in late May and June following George Floyd's killing in Minneapolis, demanding an end to police brutality. There was violence and looting in some places, including Los Angeles, but not in L.A.'s Watts neighborhood, forever linked to an uprising that broke out in the segregated area 55 years ago and became known as the Watts riots.
Protesters made a point not to go into Watts or other poor neighborhoods this time.
Watts has never fully recovered from fires that leveled hundreds of buildings or the violence that killed 34 people — two-thirds of whom were shot by police or the National Guard. Those who lived through those days and those who grew up in its aftermath are keenly aware of that past and the lessons it taught.
"People have learned from the history to say we're not going to burn our community," said state Assemblyman Mike Gipson, who was born in Watts a year after the rioting. "We realize our community is not going to be built again."
Watts has changed from an exclusively Black neighborhood in the 1960s to one that's majority Latino. It remains poor, with high unemployment.
The uprising started Aug. 11, 1965, in a nearby neighborhood after the drunken driving arrest of a young Black man by a white state trooper. The violence reflected pent-up anger over an abusive police force, a problem that has ebbed but not entirely faded, according to those who live here.
Improvements over the years include a more diverse Los Angeles Police Department that better reflects the city's population. One of Watts' major public housing developments, Jordan Downs, is being rebuilt with a nearby retail shopping complex.
A government commission that studied the cause of the rebellion called for better police-community relations and more low-income housing, along with better schools, more job training, more efficient public transportation and better health care. While some gains have been made, those who live here say the area has a long way to go.
Watts residents are still living with collateral damage from 1965, said the Rev. Marcus Murchinson, who preaches at the Tree of Life Missionary Baptist Church and also runs a charter high school, drug rehab clinics and offers health care.
Many of the businesses were never rebuilt. A corridor of Black-owned restaurants, clothing stores and bars never rebounded.
The area has long been termed a "food desert" because of a lack of fresh fruits and vegetables and a plethora of fast food restaurants and convenience and liquor stores. It took 20 years for a supermarket to be built after the uprising.
"It was almost an act of punishment when they burned down the grocery store," Murchinson said.
Murchinson, 36, who didn't grow up in Watts, said the community has survived uprisings in 1965 and 1992 following the acquittal of the police officers who beat Rodney King. But surviving is not enough.
"The spirit of the people of Watts has not changed. They are still resilient," he said. "They have the root of survival. That is a good and bad thing. When you have the testimony of surviving, you sometimes think that is success and think surviving equates to thriving, and it doesn't."
He said residents still suffer from years of systemic racism in policing, banking and housing. Multiple generations of the same families continue to live in public housing projects and only a small percentage get off government aid and achieve the dream of owning a home.
But Gipson said the legacy of the Watts riots is something he keeps in mind as he tries to make life better for residents."I would say, even though I didn't know them in 1965, those people didn't lose their lives in order for someone to grow up in Watts and not create and make a better place for the next generation," he said.