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Demonstrators Demand That Korean Market Never Reopen : Shooting: A crowd of 150 at the store reflect growing tensions over the slaying of a 15-year-old girl by a grocer.

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TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Tensions surrounding the shooting death of an African-American teen-ager at a Korean-owned market in South Los Angeles sharply escalated Thursday when a crowd of about 150 demonstrators gathered in front of the store, demanding that it be closed permanently.

“We are declaring here today that this store will never reopen,” said Danny Bakewell, president of the community group Brotherhood Crusade, as he stood with the crowd outside the market at Figueroa Street and 91st Place.

“We . . . are closing their store because of murder and disrespect on the part of these people toward us and our community,” he said. The store has been closed since the shooting.

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Meanwhile, Korean community leaders, aware of the outrage in the black community, again expressed regret and sympathy over the killing of 15-year-old Latasha Harlins, while imploring that the incident not be viewed as a racially motivated attack on African-Americans.

That viewpoint, however, was of little solace to the incensed crowd at the Empire Liquor Market Deli. They were joined by Ahneva Harlins, the slain girl’s aunt, who spoke briefly in support of keeping the store closed.

“We should teach and tell our children to shop with our own,” she said. “Latasha should never even have been in the position to give up her life for a bottle of orange juice.”

Ahneva Harlins asked reporters and the public to respect the family’s privacy and not attend services for the girl, scheduled for Saturday.

Residents have been angry since the teen-ager was shot to death Saturday by market owner Soon Ja Du after the girl put a plastic bottle of orange juice into her backpack and approached the front counter with money in her hand, police said.

Du, 51, said the girl attacked her after being caught trying to steal the juice. According to police, a security camera videotape shows Du initiating a scuffle by grabbing Latasha’s backpack. The videotape shows the girl was not shoplifting, and was walking away from the counter when she was shot, police said.

Du was arrested hours after the shooting, and charged with murder Wednesday.

Outside the market Thursday, Bakewell said African-Americans are tired of Korean shop owners and others who take “money out of our community, but who don’t live here or hire blacks.” He added that he meant not only Koreans but all merchants who “show disrespect” for blacks.

“It could be McDonald’s,” he said.

The comments were met with thunderous applause and screams of support from onlookers.

After Bakewell and several others finished speaking, a sign on butcher paper was taped across the market’s front entrance. It said: “Closed for Murder & Disrespect of Black People.”

The mood was calmer at a news conference in the office of the Korean Federation of Los Angeles, where Korean-American community leaders appealed for a conciliatory response to the shooting.

“We hope the incident is seen as a dispute between a retail store owner and a customer,” said Yang Il Kang, president of the National Korean-American Grocers Assn. “It is our hope again that this event is not looked on as a racial event . . . and that it is not exploited in a political manner.”

Members of the Black-Korean Alliance, a group formed in 1986 after five Korean merchants were killed during robberies in South Los Angeles, said they hope the tragedy does not damage the conciliatory work already done.

“We have worked together with African-American leaders to resolve some of our differences,” said Edward Chang, a member of the Black Korean Alliance. “No matter what color merchants are, they have to be respectful of their customers. It’s unfortunate the focus has been on Korean merchants.”

The Alliance is scheduled to meet today to discuss what the Korean community can offer to help the Harlins family.

Bakewell and others said their statements were “proactive,” and should not be construed as advocating lawlessness.

But on the banner taped to the store’s entrance, several onlookers wrote: “Burn this mother down!”


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