South Central, Los Angeles–The story of Latasha Harlins is a vital story in highlighting the racial undertones of inner city communities. Her story also highlights the value of Black life in the criminal justice system.
51-year-old Korean-born female store owner Soon Ja Du shot 15-year-old Harlin in the back of the head in 1991. Du insisted the girl was attempting to steal a $1.79 bottle of orange juice.
Du was tried and convicted of voluntary manslaughter in Harlins’ death, who was killed two weeks after Rodney King’s beating. Harlins was a student at Westchester High School in Los Angeles.
Superior Court Judge Joyce Karlin sentenced Du to five years of probation. She also received 400 hours of community service and paid restitution to the Harlins family for funeral expenses.
The verdict sent a chilling messages to the Black community of South Central about the value of Black life in the justice system. Although hysteria over O.J Simpson’s trial seemingly drowned out Harlins case, Tupac never let us forget what happened to her.
Tupac who was always a passionate advocate for the disenfranchised and the oppressed, mentioned Harlins on various songs.
“Latasha Harlins, remember that name,” Shakur pleaded on his 1993 sophomore album, Strictly 4 My N—–. “Because a bottle of juice is not something to die for.”
“Rest in peace to Latasha, Lil’ Yummy and Kato / Too much for this cold world to take, ended up being fatal. — 1996’s White Man’z World.”
Brenda Stevenson discussed her book, “The Contested Murder of Latasha Harlins,” about the 1991 killing of a 15-year-old African-American girl by a Korean store owner in Los Angeles. Prof. Stevenson argues that this event and the outcome of the trial that followed acted as a catalyst for the 1992 Los Angeles riots. This interview is part of Book TV’s College Series.