A coalition of African-American religious and civic groups Monday called for a 90-day boycott of a South Los Angeles liquor store where the Korean-American owner fatally shot a black man during an apparent robbery.
The June 4 incident was one of four shootings since March 16 involving African- and Korean-Americans in Los Angeles--incidents that have resulted in five deaths and have further strained relations between the two groups.
The violence has prompted the call for a boycott campaign that, organizers say, would oust uncooperative and abusive merchants from predominantly black neighborhoods.
Members of a county-sponsored black and Korean mediation group have attempted to dispel notions of racial motivation behind the killings, and have tried to bring the two sides together.
While the conciliation attempts and the boycott campaign have garnered limited participation, organizers on both sides acknowledge that tensions have increased with the recent violence.
At the protest Monday outside Chung’s Liquor Market in the 7900 block of South Western Avenue, where Lee Arthur Mitchell, 42, was shot to death, about two dozen demonstrators displayed placards, some of which read, “We will not shop with killers” and “Don’t shop where you can’t work.” Demonstrators chanted, “Boycott Korean” and “No justice, no peace.”
Mitchell, who was unarmed, allegedly attempted to buy a wine cooler, but was turned away when he offered to pay less than the cost of the item.
Although Mitchell apparently had enough money to pay for the drink, police said, he offered a piece of jewelry to make up a 25-cent difference.
When the store owner’s wife, Kumoch Park, refused Mitchell a second time, the patron allegedly reached into his coat pocket and motioned as if he were holding a concealed weapon, police said.
When Mitchell went behind the store counter and tried to remove money from the cash register, he began scuffling with store owner Tae Sam Park. The merchant drew a pistol from under the counter and fired several shots, striking Mitchell five times, detectives said.
Police said Park was under attack and shot Mitchell in self defense. The store owner sustained three broken ribs during the scuffle with Mitchell, an area resident who worked as a boxing trainer, police said.
Preliminary tests found traces of cocaine in Mitchell’s blood, a coroner’s spokesman said.
On Monday, store owner Park vowed to keep his business open.
“I have done nothing other than defend my wife and my business,” he said. “The crime they are accusing me of is based more on racial differences than fact.”
Earlier, at a news conference at the Bethel AME Church across from the market, protesters called on the district attorney’s office to reopen its investigation of the Mitchell shooting. A formal request will be made this week, said demonstration organizer Danny Bakewell, director of the Brotherhood Crusade. “The man had no weapon on him,” Bakewell said. “Someone should have recognized it.”
Organizers of the boycott said the Mitchell shooting is symptomatic of the disrespect African-Americans experience when shopping at area businesses that are not black-owned. They said the boycott will also target businesses where merchants do not hire African-Americans, or do not devote some profit to developing programs that benefit their neighborhoods.
“This is not about Korean storekeepers, specifically,” said the Rev. Edgar E. Boyd, pastor of Bethel AME Church. “It’s a concern about absentee storekeepers,” he said, referring to merchants who live outside of the neighborhoods where they do business.
Demonstrators also included Denise Harlins, aunt of a 15-year-old girl shot to death by a Korean-American liquor store owner in March. The merchant is to be tried on a charge of murder on July 29.
Other recent incidents include the May 25 shooting of two employees in a liquor store near 35th Street and Central Avenue. The victims, both recent emigrants from Korea, were killed after complying with robbery demands made by an assailant described by police as an African-American. Last Thursday, an African-American man suspected of committing a robbery in an auto parts store on Manchester Avenue was fatally wounded by his accomplice, who accidently fired a shotgun round during a struggle with the shop’s Korean-American owner.
“This violence is disturbing too,” store owner Park said. “But who cries for these victims?”
Mediators say they have been frustrated by what they see as a lack of commitment by city and county administrators to address the tensions.
“The call for a boycott has obvious implications for human relations in Los Angeles,” said Aubry, “The situation is very volatile . . . And there has not been the political will to do something about it.”
The mayor’s office and a city councilman called for the city’s Human Relations Commission to prepare a report on intercultural relations in the city, including the recent conflicts.