Countdown to Watts

July 25, 1957
Los Angeles

To The Times, a class-action suit accusing the Los Angeles Police
Department of brutality simply wasn’t newsworthy. The Mirror did a bit
better: a few paragraphs on Page 12.

And these were juicy stories:

  • A Baptist minister who was arrested after reporting an assault.
  • A disabled veteran in a wheelchair who was dropped in the street as officers were carrying him into a police station.
  • A teenager who was shot in the stomach and the back as he stood
    on a street corner after complying with officers’ orders to take his
    hands out of his pockets.

It gets worse. Lew Irwin of KPOL-AM was the only white newsman to
profile the lawsuits in depth, but the station’s management killed his story as a personal favor to Police Chief William H. Parker.

Instead of quietly preserving the status quo, the white news media’s conspiracy of silence only fueled the anger and distrust that would erupt in the Watts riots.

Because for the California Eagle, a weekly serving the African American community, the brutality suits were Page 1 news.

None of the individuals had police records, “not even a traffic
ticket,” the Eagle said. The NAACP chose the cases from many others
because they were the most flagrant.

According to the Eagle, eight of the cases occurred between June 3 and July 4, 1957. The ninth occurred earlier in the year.

The most recent incident was reported by Roberta Pryor, 637 E. Vernon, and her children, Roger, 19, Wanda, 17 and Herbert, 16.

Pryor told the NAACP that on July 4, she noticed a youth in the back of
a police car as she was walking through a parking lot near her home.
Pryor said she asked police why they were holding the youth. Her son
Roger joined them and police began questioning him.

The officers “apparently didn’t like the answers he gave and reportedly
knocked him to the ground, addressing him with obscene words,” the
Eagle said. “When he protested the language in the presence of his
mother, one of the officers reportedly threw his arm around the youth’s
neck, choking him.

“When the younger son came up, the police reportedly roughed him up
also, then took the two boys, the sister and the mother down to the
police station. Roger was booked on suspicion of grand theft auto, held
for two days and then released, the NAACP attorneys claimed.”

Disabled veteran Jeff Kimble, 6339 Estrella Ave.,
and his brother, E.C. Kimble, were arrested after bank authorities
became suspicious when E.C. Kimble tried to deposit some cash and
government checks. “The two of them were taken to the station. Since
there was no wheelchair lift available, two men lifted Jeff Kimble from
the car and started carrying him. Partway to the entrance, they
apparently lost their grip and let the crippled man drop,” the Eagle

The brothers were eventually released when the Treasury Department confirmed that the checks were indeed Jeff Kimble’s.

Another case involved the Rev. Simon Washington, 7027 S. Denver St., a Baptist minister who worked as a salesman for Supreme Liberty Life Insurance.

Washington said he had an appointment to meet a client at 2nd and San
Pedro streets when another man “came up to him and began molesting
him,” the Eagle said. Washington called officers, who arrested him on
charges of being drunk. Washington said they beat him en route to the
station and that the charges were eventually dropped.

Raymond Korengay, 3668 S. Normandie Ave.,
said he was arrested after police came to his home in search of his
brother, who was wanted on a traffic warrant. Kornegay said that
although his brother wasn’t home, police brushed past him without a
warrant, beat him and although he was bleeding profusely, drove around
for two hours before taking him to the Georgia Street Receiving
Hospital. He was charged with interfering with an officer.

Herman Johnson, 17, 669 E. 40th Place,
said he was standing on a sidewalk when police approached and told him
to take his hands out of his pockets. He was hospitalized after being
shot twice, the Eagle said, and was recuperating on a farm in Arkansas.

To be continued….

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About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
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