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Vigil Will Honor Black Teen Killed One Month Before L.A. Riots By Shop Owner
The family of a teenage girl who was shot and killed by a shopkeeper who mistakenly believed she was trying to steal a $1.79 bottle of juice will hold a vigil tonight, on the 25th anniversary of her death.Latasha Harlins was 15 years old when she was shot and killed by Soon Ja Du, then 51, on March 16, 1991. Harlins' family will hold a candlelight vigil in her name tonight at 6 p.m. at 9127 Figueroa St., according to the Los Angeles Sentinel.
Twenty-five years ago today, a young Harlins entered Empire Liquor, a shop located in South Central Los Angeles owned by Du's family. Du was working the counter that day.
Marlins took a bottle of orange juice and put it in her backpack, which led Du to the conclusion that Harlins was going to steal it, according to the L.A. Times. When Harlins approached the counter, Du grabbed her sweater, and Harlins responded by hitting Du in the face. Du fell to the ground, but soon got up and threw a stool at Harlins, which did not strike her. The teenager took the orange juice, which had fallen to the ground in the scuffle, and put it on the counter before turning to exit the store. Du grabbed a handgun from beneath the shop's counter and fired, shooting Harlins in the back of the head, killing her.
Du told responding officers she had killed Harlins in self-defense. However, a pair of witnesses and security footage showed that Harlins was clearly shot by Du in the back of the head as she was trying to exit the store.
During Du's trial, Deputy District Attorney Roxane Carvajal referred to the brutal video, telling the jury, "This is not television. This is not the movies. This is real life. You will see Latasha being killed. She will die in front of your eyes."
Harlins also died with $2 in her hand. The juice cost $1.79.
Du's lawyers argued that she was scared because other shop owners in the area had been killed during robberies, and that her son had recently had dealings with gang members in the neighborhood.
Du was ultimately found guilty of voluntary manslaughter, which carries a possible 16-year sentence. However, Du was only sentenced to five years of probation, 400 hours of community service and fined $400.
The light sentencing over the murder of an unarmed black teenager did not go over well. Harlins' death came only 13 days after Rodney King was brutally beaten at the hands of several LAPD officers, and tension was already high between Korean business owners and their black neighbors in South Central L.A. A former L.A. Times reporter once accused the LAPD of exacerbating that tension to draw attention away from the King beating. Harlins' death has been noted as a major catalyst in the 1992 L.A. Riots, which began after the officers involved in King's beating were acquitted.
Du's shop was burned in the L.A. Riots, never to re-open. In 2012, the L.A. Times reported that a 71-year-old Du was living in the Valley.