The Contested Murder of Latasha Harlins: Justice, Gender, and the Origins of the LA Riots

Paperback | August 6, 2015

byBrenda Stevenson

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Helicopters patrolled low over the city, filming blocks of burning cars and buildings, mobs breaking into storefronts, and the vicious beating of truck driver Reginald Denny. For a week in April 1992, Los Angeles transformed into a cityscape of rage, purportedly due to the exoneration of fourpolicemen who had beaten Rodney King. It should be no surprise that such intense anger erupted from something deeper than a single incident. In The Contested Murder of Latasha Harlins, Brenda Stevenson tells the dramatic story of an earlier trial, a turning point on the road to the 1992 riot. On March 16, 1991, fifteen-year-old Latasha Harlins, an African American who lived locally, entered the Empire Liquor Market at 9172 South FigueroaStreet in South Central Los Angeles. Behind the counter was a Korean woman named Soon Ja Du. Latasha walked to the refrigerator cases in the back, took a bottle of orange juice, put it in her backpack, and approached the cash register with two dollar bills in her hand - the price of the juice.Moments later she was face-down on the floor with a bullet hole in the back of her head, shot dead by Du. Joyce Karlin, a Jewish Superior Court judge appointed by Republican Governor Pete Wilson, presided over the resulting manslaughter trial. A jury convicted Du, but Karlin sentenced her only toprobation, community service, and a $500 fine. The author meticulously reconstructs these events and their aftermath, showing how they set the stage for the explosion in 1992. An accomplished historian at UCLA, Stevenson explores the lives of each of these three women - Harlins, Du, and Karlin - and their very different worlds in rich detail. Through the three women, she not only reveals the human reality and social repercussions of this triangular collision, she alsoprovides a deep history of immigration, ethnicity, and gender in modern America. Massively researched, deftly written, The Contested Murder of Latasha Harlins will reshape our understanding of race, ethnicity, gender, and-above all-justice in modern America.

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Helicopters patrolled low over the city, filming blocks of burning cars and buildings, mobs breaking into storefronts, and the vicious beating of truck driver Reginald Denny. For a week in April 1992, Los Angeles transformed into a cityscape of rage, purportedly due to the exoneration of fourpolicemen who had beaten Rodney King. It sho...

Brenda Stevenson is Professor of History at the University of California, Los Angeles. Her books include The Journals of Charlotte Forten Grimke and Life in Black and White: Family and Community in the Slave South, selected as an Outstanding Book by the Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Human Rights in North America.

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:448 pages, 9.21 × 6.1 × 1.5 inPublished:August 6, 2015Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0190231017

ISBN - 13:9780190231019

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Table of Contents

1. 'Tasha: "Always Energetic, Positive, Full of Energy"2. Soon Ja Du: "She Had a Good Life in Korea"3. March 16, 1991: Not Just Another Saturday in South Central4. People v. Du: The Trial5. Judge Joyce Karlin: "I Would Dream of Closing Arguments "6. The People v. Du: Sentencing7. Whose Fire This Time?Epilogue: Justice?

Editorial Reviews

"The Contested Murder of Latasha Harlins is a deeply moving account of the shooting death of a Black female teenager at the hands of a Korean female shopkeeper. With an elegant and elegiac tone, Stevenson charts the biographies of those involved in the outcome of the case-including thepresiding Jewish female judge. Stevenson also plumbs the cultural and historical contexts of race, class, and gender in the lives of the women and men who were brought together by the caprice of history as well as its seemingly inevitable designations. She has encompassed all of our histories in anepic manner and written about an episode in our national history to which we should all pay attention." --Lois W. Banner, University of Southern California