Los Angeles

Family Gathers on 25 Year Anniversary of Latasha Harlins' Death

The girl was shot in the back of the head.

It was 25 years ago that a 15-year-old girl lost her life over a bottle of orange juice.
Latasha Harlins was remembered Wednesday by a fervent crowd of about 50, including her grandmother, siblings and aunt, at a vigil in South Los Angeles in the place where she was shot.

"Thank everyone for coming out, supporting my sister Latasha Harlins. Still to this day, it's devastating for our family," Christine Harlins, her sister, said.

It was March 1991 when Harlins had put a bottle of orange juice in her backpack in a store owned by a Korea-born shopkeeper at 92nd and Figueroa Streets.

Tensions were high in the area after just two weeks before, the video of officers pummeling Rodney King came to light.

Harlins approached the counter with cash in hand. The shopkeeper, Soon Ja Du, accused Harlins of trying to steal the juice before a scuffle broke out between the two.

Harlins turned to walk away when Du took out a gun and fired. She was killed.

"I don't have a granddaughter. And it still hurts," Ruth Harlins, her grandmother, said.

Surveillance footage showed the girl was shot in the back of the head.

Outrage ensued after Du testified in court that she acted in self-defense, and the jury convicted her of voluntary manslaughter, which could have carried a sentence of 16 years. But Judge Joyce Karlin gave Du probation instead.

The case drew criticism after another LA County court case of cruelty to a dog was given a harsher sentence than the death of a teen.

The decision fanned the flames of racial unrest, which led to the LA riots.
Wednesday night, family and community members came out to remember Latasha’s legacy.

"Fourteen years old? How come she can she just die for one bottle of juice?" Kisuk Jun of the Koreatown Neighborhood Council said.

Family members said they hope Latasha's legacy evolves to be about love and justice.

"We got all this racism, hate going on. People getting pitted against each other. Please don't believe the hype. Support one another, all nationalities. Because we're going to need it," Denise Harlins, her aunt said.

Contact Us