L.A. Dedicates New Playground, Mural to Latasha Harlins, Whose Death 30 Years Ago Changed The City’s Direction

The 15-year-old girl’s slaying in part sparked the tension that led to a historic uprising.

A playground in South Los Angeles was renamed in honor of Latasha Harlins, the 15-year-old girl who was shot and killed in 1991 over a dispute in a Korean grocery store.  It was one of several incidents in the city that led to the social unrest of 1992.

On March 16, the 30th anniversary of her death, Harlins family remembered her at the Alvin Sutton Recreation Center Playground, which will now bear her name. A mural with her face overlooking the space has also been installed with words written by her to go along:
“I am very reliable and trustworthy, honest. I have a lot of talent and I know whatever I set my mind on something I can accomplish. I show people I care by giving what I have to people who actually need it.”
Harlins was in the grocery when its owner, Soon Ja Du, accused her of trying to steal a bottle of orange juice, which was in her backpack. The two of them argued over the bottle and  the owner shot her in the back of the head. Police investigators later said that Harlins had the money  to pay for the beverage clutched in her hand when she fell. Du was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to probation with no jail time  and community service. She was also ordered to pay funeral expenses and restitution to the family.
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The killing occurred less than two weeks after the near fatal videotaped police beating of Rodney King on March 3, which became what would now be called a viral video. An outraged L.A. community, filled with racial tension, exploded in five days of social unrest and looting on April 29, 1992, when the police involved in the beating were acquitted. More than $1 billion in damage to the Korean-American community and South L.A. was recorded.

Three decades later, Harlins’ relatives reflected on the impact of what happened and related it to current events.
“Here we are right now, 30 years after, and we have Breonna [Taylor], we have [George] Floyd, and we can do a roll call, right? The nation hasn’t learned anything,” David Bryant, Harlins’ uncle, said, according to CBS Los Angeles.
The unveiling of the mural took place a day after the release of the Netflix documentary “A Love Song to Latasha,” directed by Sophia Nahli Allison and is currently nominated for an Academy Award.
In the years immediately after Harlins’ death, her name was invoked in many things from artwork, to music to scholarly literature. But with time, some believe her memory has faded, and there was a need to keep that memory alive.
Harlins’ cousin, Shinese Harlins Kilgore, told the Los Angeles Times in February that the memorial is overdue because as time has moved on, younger people may not remember her.
“The people in [this] neighborhood don’t know who Latasha was because these are new generations,” she said. “So now is our time to speak up so we won’t forget her name.”

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