Judge Says Ruling in Shooting of Black Teen Didn't Help Trigger Riot With AM-LA Riot
May. 21, 1992
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ A judge on Wednesday denied that Los Angeles' riots were linked to her probationary sentencing of a Korean grocer who killed a black teen-ager.
But Judge Joyce A. Karlin said the news media, District Attorney Ira Reiner and other public officials bear some responsibility for inflaming racial passions by the way they have protrayed the killing last year of 15-year-old Latasha Harlins by Soon Ja Du.
She said Reiner has promoted the ''ridiculous notion that I place no value on the life of a black child'' because she sentenced Du to probation rather than a maximum 16 years in prison for voluntary manslaughter.
''What a hideous thing to say about anybody,'' she said. ''For the media to just eat that up and keep reporting it, what is that going to do but if not incite people to violence? If people believe that, then how are they going to respond?''
Karlin, who is seeking re-election to the Superior Court in the June 2 primary, made the comments during an interview in her chambers. She faces three opponents in what could be a tight race because of attention from the Du case.
Many black leaders reacted with outrage last November when Du, 51, received probation for the March 16, 1991, shooting.
Many said it contributed to tensions between black residents and Korean merchants and set the stage for the violence that followed the April 29 acquittals of four white policemen in the beating of black motorist Rodney King.
''Just like in the King verdicts, she handed down an unjust sentence,'' Harlins' aunt, Denise Harlins, said Wednesday. ''The justice system has failed the people and they have no one to rely on.''
Reiner, who unsuccessfully appealed the verdict, was out of his office Wednesday and unavailable for comment, a spokesman said.
Karlin defended her ruling, saying Du had been attacked and shot Harlins in the ''heat of battle.''
She said the media wrongly portrayed the shooting as being caused by a dispute over a $1.79 bottle of orange juice that Du thought the teen-ager was stealing.
''The whole notion of equating a life with a bottle of orange juice is nothing more than an attempt to inflame people and misconstrue completely what happened,'' she said. ''The orange juice has nothing to do with anything. ... A woman was severely beaten and responded to the beating.''