A South Los Angeles playground Tuesday was renamed in honor of Latasha Harlins, who was 15 years old when she was fatally shot 30 years ago by a Korean shop owner who accused the Black teen of stealing a bottle of orange juice.
Latasha was shot in the back of the head and died at the scene at the Empire Liquor Market on March 16, 1991.
Her killing — which occurred 13 days after the videotaped Los Angeles police beating of Rodney King — further inflamed already-simmering racial tensions in the city. The shop owner who killed her was convicted of voluntary manslaughter, but served no prison time — sentenced only to five years probation, community service and a $500 fine.
“Before there was George Floyd, before there was Breonna Taylor, there was Latasha Harlins,” community activist Najee Ali said during a gathering Tuesday at Algin Sutton Recreation Center. “Latasha Harlins was a child from our neighborhood, our community, and her murder still is painful 30 years later. It was one of the most darkest days in the history of Black Los Angeles.
“But today is not a day of sadness nor a day of mourning,” he said. “It’s a day of celebration. It’s a day we remember Latasha.”
The playground at Sutton Recreation Center was formally renamed “Latasha Harlins Playground” in memory of the teen, although the officials sign is not expected to be installed until next month.
“This is something that’s long overdue,” Harlins’ uncle, David Bryant, told ABC7. “And I think that could be somewhat of a healing to the community.”
Tybie O’Bard, a childhood friend of Latasha, said the pair would frequent the park.
“First thing in the morning when she would come to my door, early in the morning, she’s like, `You ready to go to the park?’,” O’Bard told Channel 7. “This is where we would be.”
O’Bard is among those featured in a 19-film titled “A Love Song for Latasha,” which this week earned an Oscar nomination for best documentary short. The Netflix film recounts her death, but is focused on the girl and the lasting impact her killing has had on the city.
“In the film we do not use footage of her death,” the film’s director, Sophia Nahli Allison, told ABC7. “We’re not focused on her death but really on re-birthing the memory of who Latasha was.”