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On March 16, 1991, a 15 year old African-American girl named Latasha Harlins - enter Empire Liquor Marketstore in Compton, California and proceeded to grab an orange juice – and place it in her back pack. Before she could pay for the item, Korean store owner Soon Ja Du confronted her – and accused her of stealing, even though Harlins was carrying the money to pay for the juice in her hand. Du grabbed Harlins’ sweater and tried to grab her back pack, and she fought back by punching Du in the face. The juice fell to the ground during the initial struggle. Harlins picked it up, placed it on the counter – and turned away to leave the store. Du took out her handgun and fired, hitting Harlins in the back of the head. Harlins died instantly – still clutching 2 dollars in her hand.
Du concocted a story that the store was being robbed, which is the reason why she used deadly force. Two eye witnesses and a video were presented to dispute those claims. Du was arrested and charged with voluntary manslaughter. Du claimed it was self-defense (sounds familiar) and was afraid for her life. Her defense counsel went on to say that the handgun used in the crime, was altered and had a hair trigger. The jury of her peers did not buy the story and convicted her of voluntary manslaughter, which the recommended sentence at the time was 16 years in prison. The Judge, Joyce Karlin who is white, presided over the case and gave Du 5 years probation, community service and a $400 fine. Karlin claimed that she elected to give Du probation because she had a clean record at the time and did not demonstrate any violence in the past. According to this judge she was indicating that Harlins' death was worth a $400 dollar fine and community service. As a result, of her ruling in the Du case District Attorney Ira Reiner disqualified her from trying anymore felonies. In all honesty, Karlin should have never been given this case in the first place – due to her lack of experience. Looking back, I also think Karlin is just another judge who viewed the death of a Black person as a nonentity. Once you review the video, it is absolutely incomprehensible how this judge can come to the conclusion that this crime was worth probation and a fine.
Just like so many young black men can identify and feel that they are Trayvon Martin, twenty years ago I was Latasha Harlins. I would have been about the same age as Harlins during the time of her death. Who knows what Harlins could have been if given the opportunity to live - but ran into a hot headed Korean woman with a gun - who wanted to play God that day. That hot headed Korean woman is now morphed into George Zimmerman, who also wanted to play God that night - and will use that same story of self-defense, and the stand your ground law as a get out of jail card.
Unfortunately, we do not have video of Zimmerman's actions - but we have the 911 tapes that tell a story of profiling - and stalking and the obvious screams of a young man pleading for help before he was shot to death.
Will this case even see the light of day? Harvard Professor and attorney Alan Dershowitz was animated on MSNBC with his opinion. Here, is what he stated on Hardball:
“Most affidavits of probable cause are very thin. This is so thin that it won’t make it past a judge on a second degree murder charge,” Dershowitz said. “There’s simply nothing in there that would justify second degree murder.”
“I think what you have here is an elected public official who made a campaign speech last night for reelection when she gave her presentation and overcharged. This case will not – if the evidence is no stronger than what appears in the probable cause affidavit – this case will result in an acquittal.”
But it’s worse than that,” said Dershowitz. “It’s irresponsible and unethical in not including material that favors the defendant.”
“This affidavit does not even make it to probable cause,” Dershowitz concluded. “everything in the affidavit is completely consistent with a defense of self-defense. Everything.”
I wonder if Dershowitz is right and special prosecutor sold us out for political aspirations. Or did she provide Zimmerman wiggle room for a plea bargain that will probably result in a few years in prison, instead of life in prison - which he rightfully deserves. Will a jury of Zimmerman’s peers be impartial after this case has been played out in the media – if it even reaches that far. Will the judge presiding over this case handle it impartially as well, or will he also exhibit the same judicial biases like Judge Karlin handed down in the Harlins case and throw it out completely?
I don’t trust the justice system, it is racially bias and has consistently treated victims of color like 2nd class citizens. The system, which failed Trayvon can possibly fail him a 2nd time. I don’t want to sound pessimistic, but history has a sick way of creeping up on you and repeating itself. Let’s hope the result, does not rear its ugly head again, in Florida. But then again, justice for Blacks in America – like in the case of Eleanor Bumpers, Sean Bell, Kathryn Johnston, Amadou Diallo and many others who were killed – and their killers never punished provides a stark reality that in today’s America, a Black life loss – tends to be ignored and go unpunished. Justice should be evenly disperse no matter the race or sex of the defendant or victim, but then again this is a new judicial system that is now called – the New Jim Crow.
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April 26, 2012 from 6:30pm to 9pm at BridgePort Art Center Gallery (enter through north entrance parking lot)
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