Happy Birthday Latasha Harlins

July 14, 2011  |  

Happy birthday Latasha Harlins…you would have turned 35 this month.  This fact, combined with the recent DUI arrest of Rodney King necessitated this commentary; given the backdrop of the Casey Anthony verdict.

I have to remind myself now that at the age of 41, I’m not young anymore in the objective sense of the word.  Maybe relative to senior citizens but that’s about it.  Certain events indelibly etched in my memory are only Youtube footnotes in history for the Gen-Y generation.

As the fallout continues from the Casey Anthony verdict, I’ve grown increasingly tired of the questionable comparisons in “outrage” over supposed unexpected verdicts.

True students of relatively recent history should know better.

Directly aligning the O.J. Simpson case to Casey Anthony is flawed and in total ignorance of historical context at best.  Yes, the Simpson trial will forever be the yardstick in which all televised trials are measured in terms of media coverage.  But if the national media (i.e. Nancy Grace and company) are to indict the justice system; begin with Latasha Harlins and Rodney King.  Move forward from there, not  O.J. Simpson.

Here’s why…

Los Angeles was set ablaze in 1992 in large part to the acquittal of Rodney King, but also in delayed response to the 1991 killing of Latasha Harlins. 5 years of probation, $500 fine and 400 hours community service was the sentence handed down to Korean grocer Soon Ja Du for shooting her in the back and killing 15-year-old Latasha Harlins.

Harlins caught a bullet in the back for allegedly stealing a bottle of orange juice.  The store video footage showed the unjustified murder in plain view, which led to Du’s conviction on the charges of voluntary manslaughter.


Nevertheless, she never saw a day in jail for shooting an African-American 15-year old child in the back…caught on videotape.

There was no national outrage and barely any Los Angeles mainstream media outrage for that matter. If we are going to honestly and truthfully enter into any discussion as to the inequities and inadequacies of the legal system; Latasha Harlins and Rodney King are far better points of comparison to Casey Anthony, not O.J. Simpson.  And even then, the Casey Anthony verdict falls tremendously short.

There is no witness testimony available more objective or accurate than video.  Casey Anthony should be in jail, no doubt; reasonable or otherwise.  Just stop feigning disgust today, when yesterday there was none for King or Harlins, despite clear video.

If our justice system had failed anyone for all the nation to see, it was long before anyone knew the name Casey Anthony.

That’s not even speaking of the pittance of a sentence for former BART officer Johannes Mehserle in the murder of Oscar Grant, also caught on videotape.  Mehserle was released last month after serving only seven months of a 2-year sentence.  He too was convicted…with video of the murder.

Murder on video?  National Media Outrage?  Miscarriage of justice? The civil unrest in the wake of the Du and King verdicts forever changed Los Angeles and America.  51 people murdered, with hundreds of businesses looted and burned.  This in many ways set the stage for the African-American response to the O.J. verdict.

Conversely, the Anthony Verdict inspired “twitter unrest” from celebrities and angry commentary from media personality Nancy Grace. To fume over the “flawed” justice system now, relative to OJ Simpson and Casey Anthony going free is indicative of gross historical negligence.  There are better cases to rally one’s anger around, both before and after O.J.

The same “outrage” should have been directed at acquitted Robert Blake and the associated jury.

It wasn’t.

Nobody pays him any mind, even to this day.  The same anger should have been directed at Judge Joyce Karlin who “sentenced” Soon Ja Du.

It wasn’t.  She was in fact praised for being “courageous” in her sentencing. Again, I will excuse Generation Y.  In many instances, they aren’t old enough to remember.  The news media encouraging this Casey Anthony circus on the other hand…

African-Americans in large part cheered O.J.’s acquittal in 1995 with the inverted tears of Rodney King and Latasha Harlins just 3 years before.  It was a Los Angeles knife which finally, finally cut in the other direction for once.

You can’t understand O.J. without understanding its proximity to King, Harlins and the city of Los Angeles. I remember exactly where I was, watching the verdict with 30 other co-workers in Los Angeles; 28 of them White.  After the verdict, I looked at the only other person of color in the room and we instinctively nodded in agreement with each other.  Now, they knew what it felt like.

Even still, those outraged at O.J. didn’t understand that there but for the grace of God went I instead of Harlins or King.  There was a personal, racial understanding and connection.  “We” inherently and personally understood police brutality and verdict injustice.

For the next 5 or so years, the national stories about the failed justice system were either in relation to O.J. Simpson or Jon Benet Ramsey, the 6-year old child beauty contestant found murdered in 1996.  Blame was continuously placed on the supposed “stupidity” of the Black jurors in the O.J. Simpson case while the White jurors who voted for acquittal in the Rodney King criminal trial were ignored.

Harlins wasn’t even mentioned.

Casey Anthony likely got away with murder.  I don’t say that with any happiness or celebration in my heart.  Our imperfect justice system is not built upon any search for truth, it’s an amalgam of legal gamesmanship; a competition like Survivor to outwit, outplay and outlast one’s competition.  Casey Anthony won.  To the victor go the spoils.  And to the seemingly surprised goes this brief history lesson.

Happy Birthday Latasha Harlins, you are not forgotten.

Morris W. O’Kelly (Mo’Kelly) is author of the syndicated entertainment and socio-political column The Mo’Kelly Report. For more Mo’Kelly, http://mrmokelly.com. Mo’Kelly can be reached at mrmokelly@gmail.com and he welcomes all commentary. Follow Morris W. O’Kelly on Twitter: @mrmokelly

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