Today marks 26 years since 15 year old Latasha Harlins was brutally murdered by Soon Ja Du over a carton of orange juice.
I remember hearing about Harlins’ murder as an 8 year old living in Brooklyn. Harlins, a Black Los Angeles teen, was wrongly accused by Du, a Korean grocer, of stealing a carton of juice. As Harlins walked out of the store Du shot Harlins, killing her instantly.
In 1991, that was the day I was forbidden from supporting the Korean vegetable stand around the corner from my house. It was also the first time I understood that you didn’t have to be white to be a white supremacist. A valuable lesson for a Black girl child in 1990s Brooklyn.
Fast forward 20 years and I was crying in the law library as I did my reading for criminal law. The case was People v. Du, the defendant who was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter by a jury only got probation from the judge. Soon Ja Du who killed Latasha Harlins with one fatal shot & never served time in jail. The judicial opinion cited Du’s age and lack of criminal record for her decision. The life she took didn’t even factor in.
I bawled my eyes out in the law library. That case felt personal. Criminal Law often felt like an attack on my humanity. Case after case, judges would twist the law and focus on limited facts in order to ensure that Black and Brown defendants were locked away. In Du, the judge ignored the decision and recommendation of the jurors, ignored the trauma and loss of the family who lost a child, the community torn apart by this preventable tragedy. Instead the impact on Soon Ja Du was more important than the Black life that she took.
That was all too much to bear as a 1L. Soon Ja Du was allowed to live out her life in the San Fernando Valley, Latasha Harlins didn’t even live to see 16. So I cried in the library.
Latasha Harlins stays with me, even when I lived in Koreatown in Los Angeles. I will continue to #SayHerName loudly, through tears, always.
Sending prayers, love & light to Latasha’s family, and the families of all those victims of white supremacy taken from us too soon.