The story of 15-year-old Latasha Harlins has inspired films and novels, and been sung by Tupac and Ice Cube. It's also shaped the city of Los Angeles, where her death occurred during days of burning buildings and looting. But one question still remains: What happened to Soon Ja Du, the woman who shot and killed her?
In March 1991, Du, a Korean immigrant, was working at her Empire Liquor Market and Deli in South-Central Los Angeles. When she saw that Harlins put a bottle of orange juice in her backpack instead of paying for it, Du accused her of shoplifting and fired her gun. Du was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and given probation, but her sentence sparked outrage and was widely criticized.
At trial, Du testified that she shot Harlins in self-defense because she believed her life was in danger. Du’s husband and son owned the store, and they had been robbed and threatened many times. Joseph testified that he had even been forced to give his daughter drugs by shoplifters.
Cha’s novel has received high praise from a range of literary luminaries, including crime writers Michael Connelly and Walter Mosley and Pulitzer Prize winner Viet Thanh Nguyen. It's a novel that "never settles for easy answers," writes Nguyen in the New York Times. The book is a "beautifully rendered portrait of a complex, unforgiving and heartbreaking time."