Anguished, Merchant Goes Back to Work : Shooting: The Korean operator of a mini-mart returns to work after his 9-year-old daughter is shot by a robber. A black suspect is sought, but race is not believed to be a factor.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Hong Kang, anguished and exhausted, was back behind the register of his South-Central Los Angeles mini-market Sunday, selling gas and snacks to his mostly African-American clientele.

Four security cameras scanned the store, and a faded poster on the wall warned: "Use a gun . . . You go to prison!"

"My feelings are so bad today," Kang said. "He shot my kid. I don't know why."

Kang's 9-year-old daughter remained in critical condition after being shot in the chest during a hold-up at the family store Saturday. Police were seeking a black suspect in the shooting, the latest in a series of hostile incidents that have strained relations between black and Korean-American communities.

Kang said Sunday he would have preferred to be at the side of his only child, whose name he asked be withheld. But he said he did not dare close his Shell gas station and mini-mart near the corner of Broadway and Century Boulevard for fear that it would be looted.

"He's been very courageous," said a Shell representative who was at the store helping Kang. "He's not concerned about himself. He would have preferred it to be him instead of his little girl."

Although authorities do not believe the attack was racially motivated, Los Angeles County human relations workers said they feared the shooting might hamper their efforts to maintain a constructive dialogue between African-American and Korean-American leaders.

"You try to do something positive, then you look up and something else has happened," said Larry Aubry, a senior consultant to the county Commission on Human Relations, which is involved in negotiations between the two communities. "Unfortunately, this just goes on and on. It's always a tragic situation."

Police said the girl was watching TV in a back room shortly before 6:30 a.m. Saturday, when a black man in his early 20s burst in with a handgun. Police say the man leaped over the counter, grabbed more than $500 from the register and, without provocation, fired one shot at the girl.

"There was nothing the little girl did," said Detective Nolan Gilmore.

Korean shopkeepers in the neighborhood said they did not blame the black community for the attack on Kang's daughter, but said they hoped that the incident would be seen as evidence of the danger to which the immigrant merchants are continually exposed. In the last decade, 19 Korean-American merchants in Los Angeles County have been slain on the job.

"I'm scared all the time," said the 35-year-old owner of the nearby Rite On market. "It's bad. But what can I do? I have to feed my family."

Brotherhood Crusade President Danny Bakewell, who led a boycott against another Korean-owned market where a black man was fatally shot in June, said he was outraged by the shooting of Kang's daughter.

"It's a terrible tragedy and my heart goes out to the family," Bakewell said. "I am not about to be silenced just because it was a young Korean girl."

The incident occurred just a week after Korean-born grocer Soon Ja Du was convicted of manslaughter in the shooting of a 15-year-old black girl at a liquor store 10 blocks from Kang's mini-mart.

That shooting came to symbolize the fears of the county's 3,300 Korean-American grocers, many of whom do business in low-income, crime-plagued neighborhoods. It also galvanized concern among African-Americans, who have accused the merchants of rudeness and exploitation.

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