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Grocer Says He Is Sorry; Boycott at Store Lifted : Hawthorne: Despite a letter of apology, the Korean market owner still faces charges for allegedly assaulting a 12-year-old black girl who he says stole candy from his store.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Korean grocer in Hawthorne, charged with assaulting a 12-year-old black girl he accused of stealing candy from his store, issued a written apology to the girl and her mother Thursday, bringing an end to an emotional, six-day boycott of his market.

The one-page letter signed by Wha Young Choi, 59, came after a series of behind-the-scenes talks between African-American leaders of the boycott at Don’s Market, 4123 W. 120th St., and representatives of the National Korean American Grocers Assn.

The talks were coordinated by aides to Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, who in recent months has sought to ease tensions sparked by the March shooting death of an African-American teen-ager by a Korean-born grocer.

But even as Choi’s letter paved the way for continuing talks and ended the boycott of his small market, it had no consequence on Hawthorne City Atty. Michael Adamson’s decision to prosecute the grocer on six counts of misdemeanor assault and child endangerment.

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“Whatever they do among themselves to ease tensions is wonderful,” Adamson said. “But it has nothing to do with what I am going to do and that is prosecute Choi.”

On Wednesday, Adamson announced that his office would file criminal charges against Choi in connection with his alleged assault of the girl, whose identity has not been made public because of her age.

The charges, filed Thursday, come after the girl’s claims that Choi chased her from his market on the morning of Dec. 10 and wrongly accused her of stealing candy. During a struggle, the girl has claimed, Choi kicked her once in the stomach and struck her “five or six times” in the face.

But Choi, who could face one year in County Jail if convicted, has steadfastly denied striking the girl. In interviews, he has contended that he confronted her because it was the latest of several incidents where she stole candy from his store. His allegation of petty theft by the girl will be reviewed by the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office.

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In a signed four-paragraph letter Choi said: “I write this letter in the spirit of the Christmas season. I am sorry if our disagreement has harmed, in any way, my relationship with you, my customers and the neighborhood in which I do business.”

The letter makes no direct reference to the alleged assault, but rather asks the girl and her mother to join Choi “in a mutual effort to resolve our dispute” and foster better relations between the grocer and the community.

The girl said late Thursday that she had not seen the letter and her mother could not be reached for comment. But earlier, the mother said she would not be satisfied with a letter of apology. “I still want him closed so this does not happen to any other child,” she said.

The letter’s wording and reference to relations between Korean merchants and their customers make it clear that the dispute in Hawthorne had drawn the attention of a far greater audience than the neighborhood customers who shop at Choi’s small store.

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Indeed, late Thursday, Mayor Bradley’s office, which released the letter, also issued a statement applauding the end of the boycott.

“While this incident did not occur in the city of Los Angeles, the ramifications of a selective buying campaign occurring anywhere in Southern California impacts those merchants who do business within city limits,” Bradley said.

Deputy Mayor Mark Fabiani added that Choi’s letter--and the end to the boycott--were pivotal in advancing efforts to bring Korean merchants and African-American customers together after months of friction.

“The Korean-American community felt that the boycott started without giving them a chance to resolve the situation and that perception created a lot of misunderstanding,” Fabiani said. “And now that the boycott is over, that misunderstanding can be wiped away.”

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Denying that the boycott was precipitous, Brotherhood Crusade President Danny Bakewell said that the picketing of Choi’s market was justified to draw attention to an alleged assault that might otherwise have been ignored.

“We want justice for African-Americans. We don’t apologize for that,” Bakewell said. “And those who understand how to afford our people courtesy and dignity and respect, we will work with.”

Although describing Choi’s apology as “lackluster and hollow,” Bakewell said organizers of the boycott had agreed that it should end because it had accomplished its goal of drawing attention to the incident.

“I think we all have reservations about (the apology),” Bakewell said. “But we are willing to give him more justice than he was willing to give the child he assaulted. And we think we have raised this issue in the public’s eye . . . so it’s time to move on.”

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