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The Legacy of Latasha Harlins

A year before the L.A. riots, a 15-year-old Black high schooler was shot and killed in a local store. Here, Slow Burn host Joel Anderson explains how her untimely death impacted her community and the uprising to come

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In March 1991, two acts of violence rocked Los Angeles. Both were caught on videotape. Both revealed the fault lines—of race, of money, and of power—among the city’s 9 million people. And both would make clear to the city’s Black residents just how little their lives mattered to the justice system.

One was the beating of Rodney King. The other was what happened to Latasha Harlins at the Empire Liquor Market.

This season on Slow Burn, we are exploring the people and events behind the biggest civil disturbance in American history. You can’t understand what happened after a jury failed to convict the LAPD officers who beat King without understanding what happened to Latasha.

In the second episode of the season, we tell the story of Latasha and her family—and the story of what happened after the 15 year old was shot and killed by a shopkeeper at her local convenience store. Below you’ll find some of the links that helped us understand the racial dynamics of the story and the impact Latasha’s death had on the community. —Joel Anderson

Q&A: Brenda Stevenson on Latasha Harlins

Skylar Endsley Myers

JA: “How does racially-motivated violence impact cultural memory? In this interview, Stevenson, author of ‘The Contested Murder of Latasha Harlins,’ (and a voice in our episode) explores the role of gender in Latasha’s case, along with the geographic racial breakdown of South LA in the early ‘90s.”

Slaying of Black in Korean Market

Los Angeles Times

JA: “13 days after her death, 234 of Latasha Harlins’ classmates sought answers in a letter printed in the LA Times. It’s short and a real gut punch. ‘Why is there an empty desk in her classes? Who can answer our questions?’”

Black-Korean Alliance Says Talk Not Enough, Disbands

Jake Doherty
Los Angeles Times

JA: “In January 1992, the Korean-American Grocers Association made an effort to bridge the cultural divide that fueled tensions between Black customers and Korean store owners, even enlisting pastors at different congregations to help. But sometimes good intentions aren’t enough. While it tried to achieve peaceful co-existence between the two groups, the Black-Korean Alliance didn’t last through 1992. This piece talks about why the effort unraveled.”

Tupac Said Her Name

Justin Tinsley

JA: “We weren’t able to get to this in the episode, but Latasha was heavily featured in Tupac’s work. In the video for ‘Keep Your Head Up,’ a dedication for Latasha can be read onscreen before the song begins.”

Joel Anderson

Joel Anderson is a staff writer at Slate and the host of Seasons 3 and 6 of Slow Burn. Previously, he worked as a reporter on sports, culture, and politics for ESPN and BuzzFeed News.