Latasha Harlins by Edwin Lear.
March 16, 1991: 15-year-old Latasha Harlins was murdered by Soon Ja Du, a 51 year-old Korean store owner in Los Angeles, California.
After the shooting, Du described the teenager to her family as “a woman in her mid-20s, who attempted to take money from the market register » moments before Du grabbed the gun and fired.
“There was no attempt at shoplifting. There was no robbery. The victim committed no crime at all”, said Police Cmdr. Michael J. Bostic.
Du was arrested on suspicion of murder, just hours after she was treated at a hospital for what Bostic described as “superficial injuries ».
Latasha Harlins was a student at Westchester High School in Los Angeles. Her murder came just 13 days after the videotaped beating of Rodney King.
In November 1991 a jury convicted Du of voluntary manslaughter. The jury recommended the maximum sentence of 16 years.
However, the trial judge, Joyce Karlin, did not accept the jury’s sentencing recommendation and instead sentenced Du to 5 years of probation, 400 hours of community service, and a $500 fine.
During the 1992 L.A. riots, Du’s store was looted and burned down and it never reopened. The property later became a market under different ownership.
Shortly before 10:00 am on Saturday, Harlins entered Empire Liquor. Du observed Harlins putting a $1.79 bottle of orange juice in her backpack.
Du WRONGLY concluded Harlins was attempting to steal and did not see the money Harlins held in her hand. Du claimed to have asked Harlins if she intended to pay for the orange juice, to which Du claimed Harlins responded, « What orange juice? »
👉🏿Two eyewitnesses –9-year-old Ismail Ali and his 13-year-old sister Lakeshia Combs– disputed that claim, saying that Du called Harlins a « bitch » and accused her of trying to steal, to which they say Harlins replied that she intended to pay for the orange juice.
After speaking with the two eyewitnesses present and viewing the videotape of the incident recorded by a store security camera, the police concluded that Harlins intended to pay for the beverage with the money in her hand.👈🏿
The videotape showed that Du grabbed Harlins by her sweater and snatched her backpack. Harlins then struck Du with her fist twice, knocking Du to the ground. After Harlins backed away, Du angrily threw a stool at her.
Harlins then picked up the orange juice bottle that dropped during the scuffle, Du snatched the bottle from her and Harlins turned to leave. Du reached under the counter, retrieved a revolver, and fired at Harlins from behind at a distance of about 3 feet.
The gunshot struck Harlins in the back of the head, killing her instantly.
Du’s husband, Billy Heung Ki Du, heard the gunshot and rushed into the store. After speaking to his wife, who asked for the whereabouts of Harlins before fainting, he dialed 9-1-1 to report an attempted robbery.
🖤Tupac took particular note of Harlins’s death and in 1993 released a song entitled « Keep Ya Head Up » which was dedicated to Latasha Harlins. Thereafter, Shakur made frequent mention of Harlins in his songs.
🖤Ice Cube composed a song about the incident for his album Death Certificate entitled « Black Korea ».
🖤Gabriel Kahane composed a song about the incident entitled « Empire Liquor Mart (9127 S. Figueroa St.) ».
🖤Sapphire, in her book American Dream wrote the poem ‘Strange Juice’ (or the murder of Latasha Harlins) giving voice to the murdered girl.
🖤Adaeze Nkechi Nwosu’s debut novel, Heal the Hood, is about the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Latasha Harlins’ murder is mentioned and referenced several times in the novel since it was one of the causes of the LA Riots.
🖤In September 2020, Netflix released a documentary celebrating the life of Latasha Harlins titled ‘A Love Song for Latasha.’, directed by Sophia Nahli Allison.
By Edwin Lear
Tupac – keep ya Head Up
Ice Cube – Black Korea
Gabriel Kahane – Empire Liquor Mart
On December 7–9, 2019, the Oregon Symphony premieres a new orchestral arrangement of Gabriel Kahane’s Empire Liquor Mart. This moving music captures the story of Latasha Harlins, a 15-year-old African-American girl whose 1991 death in a shooting by a convenience store owner is considered one of the causes of the 1992 Los Angeles riots. He talks about how this story inspired his music in this video.