A Senseless and Tragic Killing : New tension for Korean-American and African-American communities


The killing of 15-year-old Latasha Harlins presents a new challenge to African-Americans and Korean-Americans of this city. The fatal shooting of the African-American teen-ager by a Korean shopkeeper threatens to put new strains on relations between the two communities.

When Latasha entered Soon Ja Du’s store in South Los Angeles, she was going to buy a bottle of orange juice. Du shot the teen-ager, after Du believed that Latasha was trying to steal the juice, Du’s son said. A security camera videotape of the incident last Saturday reportedly shows otherwise. Police said the videotape corroborated witness accounts that Latasha had put the juice in her knapsack but was approaching the store counter with money in her hand. After a brief scuffle with Du, Latasha threw the orange juice on the counter and was heading out of the store when Du shot her in the back of the head, police said.

“There was no attempt at shoplifting. There was no robbery. There was no crime at all,” said Police Cmdr. Michael J. Bostic. Du was arrested on suspicion of murder.


The police have described the incident as a “business dispute,” moving quickly to try to deflate rumors that the shooting was racially motivated. Leaders of the African-American and Korean-American communities met immediately and jointly expressed shock at the shooting. “This senseless loss of a young girl’s life reflects the worst type of violence perpetuated upon a consumer by a merchant,” according to a joint statement.

The shooting should not be allowed to set back efforts begun in 1986 to ease tensions between African-American residents and Korean-American merchants in South-Central Los Angeles. Cultural misunderstandings and racial myths have long sparked black-Korean conflict, here and in other cities nationwide. It’s significant that both Koreans and blacks have condemned this tragic shooting. That’s a start, but the fragile relationship between the two communities cries out for more concentrated attention.