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Latasha Harlins, 15
Los Angeles, California
March 16, 1991

Agencies: Los Angeles Police Department California LAPD

Last updated: 10 months ago

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Following a series of negative encounters between Korean shop owners and black customers, which the media gave copious attention to, African Americans’ grievances against Koreans intensified during the 1980s. One major flashpoint was the eight-month boycott of Family Red Apple Market in New York City’s Flatbush section in Brooklyn. The boycott was initiated in 1990 after a physical altercation between a black customer of Haitian descent and a Korean proprietor who had accused the former of stealing. Closer to home in South Central, a violent encounter that would prove pivotal in the events leading to the riots occurred in March 1991. A fifteen-year old African American named Latasha Harlins entered Empire Liquor Market on South Figueroa Street. That day, Soon Ja Du, a middle-aged Korean immigrant, was working at the store. She was there because her son Joseph, who would have been working that day, stayed home. He did so because of threats that he had received by members of the Crips gang after agreeing to testify against them in the wake of a robbery attempt. In the store, Du accused Harlins of stealing, and an altercation between the two led to Harlins punching Du and knocking her down, after which Du shot Harlins in the back of the head. Harlins was later found to have had juice from the store in her backpack and money in her hand.

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