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This is a contributing entry for 1992 Los Angeles Uprising and only appears as part of that tour.Learn More.
Located in Koreatown, Empire Liquor also plays an important role in provoking the L.A. Uprising of 1992. In 1991, one of the store owners shot and killed a teenage African American girl for supposed shoplifting. After the trial, the Korean merchant, similar to the police officers in Rodney King’s case, faced light consequences for her crime. This pattern of negligence and unaccountability both disheartened and angered the Black community, building up to the riots.

On Saturday, March 16, 1991, Latasha Harlins, a fifteen year old African American girl, entered Empire Liquor, a convenience store run by a Korean couple. Latasha only wanted to buy a bottle of orange juice; however, miscommunication and racist stereotyping led Soon Ja Du to believe that Latasha was trying to shoplift. During that time, the “blocks surrounding Empire Liquor...had one of the city’s highest crime rates,” thus “shoplifting was commonplace at Empire Liquor” (Cannon). In 1990, “thirteen Korean-operated stores in the Los Angeles area were the scenes of armed Korean merchants saw it, they were under systemic attack, most often by African Americans” (Cannon). As such, Soon Ja Du did not hesitate to angrily accuse Latasha of stealing. 

Harlins did intend to pay for the beverage, but the furious accusation incited Harlins to lash out against Soon Ja Du, and the two began to scuffle. As Harlins turned to leave, Soon Ja Du grabbed a revolver and shot Harlins in the back, which killed her instantly. A video camera and eyewitnesses captured the entire standoff. Right after hearing the gunshot, Soon Ja Du’s husband rushed inside and called the police. During Soon Ja Du’s trial, she defended her actions by labelling them as self-defense, which clearly contradicted the video evidence and witness accounts. Thus, the jury found Soon Ja Du guilty of voluntary manslaughter, which involves imprisonment. However, “the merchant was...given a suspended sentence, with no imprisonment” by the trial judge due to factors such as provocation and Soon Ja Du’s past experiences with robberies (Madhubutii). Instead of imprisonment, Soon Ja Du was fined, put on probation, and given community service. 

In response to Soon Ja Du’s lightened sentence, the Black community once again felt outraged at the justice system for failing to ensure accountability as well as the Korean community for their history of discrimination against Black citizens. South Central Angeles, filled with “poverty, decay, and the urban underclass,” saw tensions build between the Korean and Black residents as a result of many cases of racism and distrust (Abelmann and Lie). After the trial, “Latasha Harlins’ name was scarcely mentioned on television because it was the key to the catastrophic collapse of relations between L.A.’s Black and Korean communities (Abelmann and Lie). Korean Americans blamed African Americans for the high crime and povery rates while African Americans experienced cruel discrimination by Korean Americans. This strained relationship undoubtedly frustrated and provoked Black rioters to loot, burn, and destroy Korean-owned businesses and Koreatown during the uprising.

Abelmann, Nancy, and John Lie. Blue Dreams: Korean Americans And the Los Angeles Riots. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1995.

Abelmann and Lie offered a deep dive into how the 1992 L.A. Uprising affected the Korean American community. They account and examine issues which previously existed and engendered Black resentment against Korean Americans. Additionally, they also describe the experiences of Korean Americans during the riots and in the aftermath as Los Angeles struggles to rebuild. 

Bates, Karen Grisby and Anjuli Sastry. “When LA Erupted In Anger: A Look Back at the Rodney King Riots.” NPR. NPR, 26 Apr. 2017, 

The article by Bates and Sastry gives a detailed account of what happened during the riot and how the uprising affected several different areas of South Los Angeles. 

Cannon, Lou. Official Negligence: How Rodney King And the Riots Changed Los Angeles And the LAPD. New York: Times Books, 1997.

Lou’s analysis of the 1992 Los Angeles Uprising provides a great deal of information spanning the entire timeline of the rioting, from Rodney King’s beating to the impacts the rioting had on the political environment and police department. With many direct quotes, Lou goes step by step through the riot and examines the entire event unfolding.  

Madhubuti, Haki R., 1942-. Why L.A. Happened: Implications of the '92 Los Angeles Rebellion. Chicago: Third World Press, 1993.

Madhubuti compiles a series of essays from several authors which discuss the factors that caused the Los Angeles rioting.

Mydans, Seth. “Riots In Los Angeles: Pocket of Tension; A Target of Rioters, Koreatown is Bitter, Armed, and Determined.” The New York Times Company. The New York Times, 2 May, 1992, 

Mydans’ article accounts the personal responses of Korean Americans to the rioting of Koreatown. 

The Associated Press. “Rodney King Riot: Timeline of Key Events.” AP NEWS, Associated Press, 26 Apr. 2017,  

The Associated Press provides a concise timeline of events outlining the uprising.