Everybody Thought We Were Crazy: Dennis Hopper, Brooke Hayward, and 1960s Los Angeles by Mark Rozzo:
Dennis was eager to return to Los Angeles and photograph Watts. The conflagration had begun in the distressingly usual way: brutality on the part of white police operating under Mayor Sam Yorty’s and Police Chief William H. Parker’s hard-assed directives in a Black neighborhood. Motorcycle cop pulls over two Black motorists, possibly intoxicated. They turn out to be brothers. One of them—Marquette Frye—doesn’t want to be handcuffed, no fewer than twenty-six police vehicles arrive to assist, the billy clubs come out, the mother attempts to intercede and is pinned to the hood of a patrol car. The ensuing protest lasted six days. Thirty-four people died, many of them shot by police, and more than a thousand were injured. One man, who had been lying in his bed with his wife minding his own business, was shot eleven times by police. (After an inquest, the murder of that innocent man, along with every other at the hands of the LAPD or National Guard, was ruled justifiable.) For African Americans, it was a rebellion. For whites, including the media, it was a riot. In a particularly lurid description, a Los Angeles Times columnist called it “an anarchistic holocaust of shooting and looting ominously reminiscent of the Mau Mau eruption in British East Africa.”
The novelist Thomas Pynchon examined “L.A.’s racial sickness.” Writing in the New York Times, he observed, “While the white culture is concerned with various forms of systematized folly—the economy of the area in fact depending upon it—the black culture is stuck pretty much with basic realities like disease, like failure, violence and death, which the whites have mostly chosen—and can afford—to ignore.” It was a forty-five-minute drive from Malibu to Watts on a good day. The actual distance was incalculable.