The Contested Murder of Latasha Harlins

  • by Brenda Stevenson
  • Narrated by Lisa Renee Pitts
  • 16 hrs and 14 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Helicopters thwopped low over the city, filming blocks of burning cars and buildings, mobs breaking into storefronts, and the vicious beating of truck driver Reginald Denny. For a week in April 1992, Los Angeles transformed into a cityscape of rage, purportedly due to the exoneration of four policemen who had beaten Rodney King. It should be no surprise that such intense anger erupted from something deeper than a single incident. In The Contested Murder of Latasha Harlins, Brenda Stevenson tells the dramatic story of an earlier trial, a turning point on the road to the 1992 riot.
On March 16, 1991, 15-year-old Latasha Harlins, an African American who lived locally, entered the Empire Liquor Market at 9172 South Figueroa Street in South Central Los Angeles. Behind the counter was a Korean woman named Soon Ja Du. Latasha walked to the refrigerator cases in the back, took a bottle of orange juice, put it in her backpack, and approached the cash register with two dollar bills in her hand-the price of the juice. Moments later she was face-down on the floor with a bullet hole in the back of her head, shot dead by Du. Joyce Karlin, a Jewish Superior Court judge appointed by Republican Governor Pete Wilson, presided over the resulting manslaughter trial.
A jury convicted Du, but Karlin sentenced her only to probation, community service, and a $500 fine. The author meticulously reconstructs these events and their aftermath, showing how they set the stage for the explosion in 1992. An accomplished historian at UCLA, Stevenson explores the lives of each of these three women-Harlins, Du, and Karlin - and their very different worlds in rich detail. Through the three women, she not only reveals the human reality and social repercussions of this triangular collision, she also provides a deep history of immigration, ethnicity, and gender in modern America. Massively researched, deftly written, The Contested Murder of Latasha Harlins will reshape our understanding of race, ethnicity, gender, and-above all-justice in modern America.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Eye-opening, unbiased, and life changing

What made the experience of listening to The Contested Murder of Latasha Harlins the most enjoyable?

It's hard to describe any part of this book as "enjoyable," considering the topic, but I really enjoyed the extensive background histories Stevenson gave for the people in this event. It really put so much into context for me and opened my eyes to the bases for conflicts between people in South Central LA. I also would say I enjoyed the author's unbiased approach to this topic. It allowed me to learn a lot about race relations in this part of the country and form my own understanding of what took place between Harlins and Du on March 16, 1991.


What other book might you compare The Contested Murder of Latasha Harlins to and why?

I'd compare this to a book I'd have read in grad school. It is not for the faint of heart. It is a well researched book with a lot of data and information. This is not a superficial telling of an event and is not light reading!


What does Lisa Renee Pitts bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

Pitts' voice was clear and properly paced, though I did speed it up at bit to 1.25x.


Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

It's hard to not have a reaction to this book and, yes, I cried. How do you NOT cry when you hear about the torments of African-Americans in this country? How do you NOT cry when you hear about Latasha Harlins' hard 15 years of life? How do you NOT cry when you hear the details of the Rodney King beating, the killing of Korean shop keepers, and the struggles of people in South Central LA? I cried. I became obsessed with this story. I even drove through the neighborhood store Latasha was killed at. I seriously think about her every day now. This book is life changing.


Any additional comments?

Listen to this book. Yes, it's detailed. Yes, it's got a lot of university-level concepts and discussion. But it's important to hear this story and understand what happened that day and how it is reflective of so many other things that had been happening, and happened afterwards, in South Central LA. This book has really motivated me to learn more about the civil rights movement and the history of African-Americans in California. Really, this is a really good book!

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- C Z "Lover of art, cats, traveling, hiking, nature, music, and solitude."

Way too much sociological details

The parts of this audiobook which tell the actual story of Latasha Harlins, her family and the criminal case of her murderer are most excellent.

The dullest and most pointless parts of this book were the hours of narration devoted to the backgrounds of Soon Ja Du and Judge Karlin. As a result, I ended up listening to only about ha
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- Sam I Am

Book Details

  • Release Date: 02-14-2014
  • Publisher: Audible Studios