On March 16,1991 Latasha Harlins visited Empire Liquor Market and Deli in South Los Angeles where she was going to purchase a carton of orange juice. Latasha encountered Soon Ja Du who accused her of trying to steal a carton of orange juice totaling $1.79.
According to witnesses, Latasha placed the carton of orange juice in her backpack with the intention of heading to the cash register to purchase it. Latasha had $2 in her hand ready to pay. Du grabbed Latasha by her sweater, then Latasha proceeded to punch Du in the face and break free from her grasp, as this occurred Du was knocked to the ground.
At this point Latasha placed the orange juice on the counter and was walking towards the door when Du grabbed her .38 caliber gun and fired.
The shot hit Latasha in the back of her head and killed her instantly.
Latasha’s murder was captured on a security camera. Police were able to determine that Latasha “made no attempt at shoplifting.”
The jury for Du’s case found her guilty of voluntary manslaughter, which carries a maximum sentence of 16 years incarcerated. Despite the fact that the police were able to conclude that Latasha was not making an attempt to steal the orange juice, Judge Joyce A. Karlin sentenced Du to probation, 400 hours of community service and a $500 fine.
As usual, at first there was immense support from citizens, politicians, and activists. Unfortunately, Latasha’s story was placed on the back burner in comparison the beating of Rodney King a few weeks before her death. As time went on Latasha was forgotten and the fight for justice for her faded.
The Latasha Harlins Justice Committee was created and demanded that the judge who presided over the case stepped down. In fact activists protested at her mom and at the courthouse where she worked. Petitions were also signed, unfortunately through out her tenure as a judge Karlin stayed consistent in defending her sentence for Du until she stepped down in 1997.
The committee also called for the district attorney to appeal Du’s sentence, which he did. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly the state appeals court upheld the sentence in April of 1922.
A week before the 4 officers who beat Rodney King were acquitted.
Then the riots began.
Latasha’s name was left out and forgotten in the minds of the majority of rioters, however, it is believed that the murder of Latasha was the influential factor behind why rioters burned Korean owned businesses.
In the wake of the Breonna Taylor murder and the announcement of charges or lack there of we can’t forget Latasha Harlins.
Malcolm X is being quoted nationwide as he said “The most disrespected person in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America is the black woman.”
We must be critical of ourselves and acknowledge and understand that it isn’t just police officers who are harming the black woman, but that the black woman is disrespected, unprotected, and neglected across the board.
Don’t be in support of Breonna Taylor, Latasha Harlins, and all of the other women who have suffered but in the same breath be apart of the problem. Too many individuals are content and not invested yet want to open their mouths and complain every time there is a tragedy.
The cycle is never ending, we experience tragedy, we protest or maybe riot for a while then the hype dies down and we become content until tragedy strikes again.
Often times we here there are two criminal justice systems; one for blacks and one for whites, but we need to acknowledge another system.
The criminal justice system for women.
To be more specific in reference to cases like these, The Criminal Justice System for Black Women.