Thirty-one years ago this week, Latasha Harlins’ life was cut short over a dollar and some change by Soon Ja Du, a Korean store owner. This tragedy is often lost to time, overshadowed by the Rodney King beating just two weeks prior. There was video evidence depicting wrongdoing by the defendants in both cases, and in both cases, the defendants did not serve any jail time. The combined outrage created by both incidents and the ensuing verdicts sparked the L.A. Uprising of 1992. The South LA community had grown sick and tired of racist police practices, a failed judicial system, high levels of unemployment, economic inequality, and a burgeoning drug crisis.
The death of Latasha Harlins and the beating of Rodney King heightened both the Black community’s distrust of the Los Angeles Police Department and the strained relationship between the Black and Korean communities. Through the leadership of the late Mayor Tom Bradley and community support from the late John Mack, the then President of the Los Angeles Urban League, and other community leaders, Los Angeles rose from the ashes to move forward.
We must continue educating, communicating, sharing our stories, and supporting the youth in all our communities. We must also continue our work to improve our criminal justice system so that true justice is always served.
Since the 1992 Uprising, we have worked to bridge the gap between our Black and Asian communities. The Los Angeles Urban League continues to work with allies like Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Asia Society, and Korean American Federation to make our relationship even more substantial. The Los Angeles Urban League supports our Asian brothers in opposition to the heightened aggression, violence, and discrimination related to the Covid-19 pandemic. Our Asian brothers and sisters have supported our community and joined our protest of the murder of George Floyd by police and other matters. Indeed, a new generation of multi-racial advocates is rising. Today our relationships are strong and are getting stronger.
Black lives do indeed matter, and a child’s life is worth far more than a $1.79 bottle of juice. If Latasha Harlin could enter Soon Ja Du’s store today, the results would be vastly different. In her absence, we continue to honor her life by working to ensure that this tragedy will never happen again. We must continue educating, communicating, sharing our stories, and supporting the youth in all our communities. We must also continue our work to improve our criminal justice system so that true justice is always served.
April 29th is Latasha Harlins Day. On that day, we must all come together to honor a young life that was cut short and remember the work we must continue to do to strengthen relationships across races and ethnicities. This day should also serve as a call to action to demand a system that distributes justice fairly and equally to everyone, regardless of their zip code or skin color.