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L.A.'s darkest days

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But L.A.'s black community was primed to explode by an earlier incident. Several months prior to the King-beating verdict, Latasha Harlins, a 15-year-old black girl, was shot and killed by a Korean grocer in an altercation over a bottle of orange juice.

The grocer had been found guilty of voluntary manslaughter in the death, but received a sentence of probation. For many poorer African Americans, the verdict was an outrage, and became a symbol of what they considered decades of economic colonialism by Korean store owners who operated in black neighborhoods.

"The No. 1 enemy for us was Koreans, who we felt were oppressing us," says Ali.

Giving and getting racial hurt

Ali – then Todd Eskew – was a self-professed "gang-banger" who lived alone and hated his construction job. He'd watched as unemployment – due to an exodus of manufacturing from South-Central during the '80s – claimed the livelihoods of his friends.

Asians weren't the only ethnic group Ali disliked. He'd seen Hispanic immigrants flood L.A., competing with blacks for entry-level jobs and low-cost housing. But the Koreans edging in from the north were a case apart. They spoke no English – and used none on their business signs. Korean store owners in black neighborhoods followed customers around, and placed change on countertops, rather than in customers' hands. They kept to themselves and didn't participate in civic life, Ali says.

For him, in 1992, the riots were not riots at all, but a rebellion aimed at throwing off perceived economic and social oppression.

"We wanted to hurt [Koreans] physically, economically, raise their insurance rates – anything we could for payback," says Ali.

Jurado knew blacks didn't particularly get along with Koreans, because he grew up in South-Central. He knew, too, that blacks didn't particularly like Hispanics, either. Crack cocaine had hit South-Central streets in the mid-'80s, creating gang turf battles in which homicides rocketed.

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