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The here of Watts is pastel houses with window gratings in curly patterns. Here is yard sales with bins full of stuffed animals and used water guns. Here is Crips turf. “Being a spectator of calamities taking place in another country,” writes Susan Sontag, “is a quintessential modern experience.” Part of what feels strange about this tour is that you’re assuming the posture of a tourist — How many people have died here? How do the boys come of age?—but you are only 18 miles from where you grew up.
Alfred says more people have died in LA gang conflicts than the Troubles in Ireland. You’d never thought of it like that, which is his point: no one thinks of it like that. These blocks look so ordinary — South Central Avenue itself is just a gritty bracelet of strip malls and auto body shops; Watts is parched lawns that once burned. The here of Watts was on fire in 1965. Black boys who hadn’t been let into the Boy Scouts were sick of it. They made their own clubs. 35,000 people rose up. People got sick of it again in 1992, when Rodney King was beaten and thousands of people, the children of the Watts riots, said enough. Reginald Denny with a brick to the head said enough.