In March 1991, 15-year-old Latasha Harlins went to her local store to buy a bottle of orange juice. The market was near her home in South Central Los Angeles.
Latasha approached the cash desk, with money in her hand, but the Korean owner spotted the orange juice bottle poking out of the top of her backpack.
Soon Ja Du presumed that the teenager was attempting to steal the orange juice, so she raised a 0.38 pistol and shot the girl in the back of the head.
Latasha’s name became the battle cry of residents in her neighborhood when they stormed onto the streets in anger.
Korean businesses were targeted in a frenzy of vengeful attacks, with many razed to the ground. This was a turning point in the history of Los Angeles.
“You Always Have Dreams”
Latasha Harlins moved to South-Central L.A. with her family in 1981 at the age of six. St. Louis, Illinois had been her birthplace, but the family moved to find a better life in California.
“When you go someplace else, you’re always expecting things to be better,” her grandmother, Ruth Harlins said. Sadly, that was not to be for this doomed family. Four years after moving to L.A., Latasha’s mother, Crystal, was shot dead in a nightclub. Latasha, and her two siblings, were left in the care of her grandmother.
Trouble Had Been Brewing In South Central L.A.
At that time, the neighborhood was bubbling with underlying tensions. Korean business owners were notoriously rude to black customers. Besides the cultural differences and misunderstandings, the black community felt angered by unfair pricing and the lack of job opportunities for black people in the stores.
An initiative by LAPD, called Operation Hammer in 1987, fuelled the tension in South-Central L.A. Police Officers were delegated to black neighborhoods to root out suspected gangsters.