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An intimate look at LA’s Watts, 55 years after violence erupted

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When earlier this year AP photographer Jae Hong returned to Los Angeles from Japan, where he had been covering the run-up to the Tokyo Olympics, he set out to do a story on Asian Americans and identity amid the pandemic. Asians have an important history in Los Angeles, including in traditionally Black neighborhoods in South LA.

In the middle of that reporting, George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis and protests sprang up nationwide, including LA. But while violence broke out in various parts of the city, there were no violent protests in Watts, the neighborhood in South Los Angeles that has been the site of notorious race riots. That dynamic piqued Jae’s curiosity.

He shifted his focus to Watts, spending months getting to know residents, including some who remembered the 1965 race riots that erupted after a white police officer stopped a Black motorist. Reporter Brian Melley and video journalist Aron Ranen teamed with Hong as his reporting accelerated.

They found that many residents feel their neighborhood has never recovered from the riots, and still faces myriad problems 55 years later. According to one resident: “It was almost an act of punishment when they burned down the grocery store,” because a lot of stores never returned.

Through words,photos,video and archival images,the package connected Watts of 1965 to Watts of today, giving readers an intimate look at the neighborhood and its challenges at a time when racial justice and police violence are central issues in America.

U.S. managing editor Noreen Gillespie had this to say about it: “The Watts story is great – it makes beautiful use of the archive material and Jae’s photos just sing and let the reader into the neighborhood in a really personal way.”

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