Family members, community leaders and those who remember gathered in Los Angeles on Wednesday to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the shooting death of African American teen Latasha Harlins, whose killing sent shockwaves through Southern California and fueled the unrest that led to the Los Angeles riot.
"She represents so many that are not here that would have been something to somebody," said her aunt Denise Harlins, noting that the 15-year-old would have turned 40 this year.
Participants lit candles, prayed, remembered the girl’s brief life and released white balloons into the air telling Latasha “we love you.”
On March 16, 1991, Harlins was shopping in the L.A. grocery store and put a bottle of orange juice in her knapsack. Korean-born shopkeeper Soon Ja Du accused her of trying to steal the item and grabbed her sweater. The two scuffled until Harlins knocked Ju to the floor. The girl placed the juice on the store’s counter and walked toward the door, but Du shot her in the back of the head at near point blank range.
Police later determined that Harlins did not intend to steal the juice and acknowledged the girl had two dollar bills clutched in her hand. Surveillance video captured the entire incident.
Du was charged with voluntary manslaughter, but a judge sentenced her to community service and a fine.
The killing took place about two weeks after the Rodney King police beating and together the two have been long said to have fueled tensions that led to the 1992 riot.
Family members tried to get the conviction overturned, but were unsuccessful. They said they want Latasha’s legacy to be about love and justice, according to NBC Los Angeles.
"We got all this racism, hate going on. People getting pitted against each other,” said Denise Harlins during the vigil. “Please don't believe the hype. Support one another, all nationalities. Because we're going to need it."