The Contested Murder of Latasha Harlins
her about people who wore clothes like Latasha’s: they were, accordingto him, gang members and dangerous. Latasha’s clothes, her age, and thecolor of her skin made her, in Du’s estimation, an “other” who was notto be trusted, but who was to be feared. Du’s perception of Harlins as aracial and/or ethnic stranger as it were, also resonates with nationalhomicide statistics.
ree out of ten homicides are interracial when the victim is a “stranger.” Most “stranger homicides” also involve a gun.
Latasha Lavon Harlins was born on January
, at the ChristianWelfare Hospital in East St. Louis, Illinois, the
rst daughter of
-year-old Crystal Harlins.
e Harlins family, led by Crystal’s mother Ruth,had been in East St. Louis since the late
ey were an extendedfamily, with at least three, sometimes four, generations living together.Latasha, her mother, her two younger siblings named Vester, Jr. andChristina,
along with Sylvester Aco
, father of Latasha’s siblings, joinedRuth Harlins in Los Angeles in
Denise and Shinese, Latasha’smaternal aunt and
rst cousin moved from Atlanta to join the family in
. Richard Brown (a.k.a. Harlins), her maternal uncle, also lived inthe home.
is is the story of Latasha Harlins. It explores her tragic life in LosAngeles, her family, her community, and the forces—historical, polit-ical, economic, cultural, legal, and criminal—which shaped who shewas, how she behaved, what she thought, and what happened to her onthat morning in the late winter of
that ended her life.
e homicide detectives on the scene seized Latasha’s backpack,along with its contents—a jar of cream, a pair of female underpants, atoothbrush, some other toiletry items, and a few other articles—as evi-dence.
e police took photos of her dead body and then walked fromhouse to house in the working-class neighborhood near the site of theshooting, trying to get a positive identi
cation of the murdered youth.Neighbors kept pointing them toward one apartment building, then toone apartment in particular leased by Ruth Harlins. Denise Harlins,Ruth’s daughter, opened the door and spoke to the policemen. As hisdescription of what happened to Latasha wa
ed backward and
lled theroom with unexpected dread, grandmother Ruth collapsed. Shinesewent screaming through their home.
e dead girl was not only hercousin, but also her best friend and roommate; Latasha had borrowedShinese’s lime-green backpack with a clock on the front when she le