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LA RIOTS, a poem by Dom Root

Our Summer Poetry Contest topic was "the voice of today" and a poem I wrote in 2012 still connects. It's more of a short-story that sheds light on what happened to Latasha Harlins.


I knew an honest Police Officer; he served for twenty years in the city before he died. Just months before his accident, he shared with me his thoughts about guilt, saying, “There is no such thing as innocent, in that moment when you fit the description. We are trained to act on our instincts, not our feelings, and wrong is a familiar consequence.” Then he told me of a story about Latasha, a young black girl around my age in the early 90’s, who was shot in the back of the head for allegedly attempting to steal a bottle of orange juice. Latasha fought for more than suspicion that morning. She died, face pressed into a pool of blood, holding two dollars in her left hand, just minutes before school, just days after Rodney King was beaten. The suspect of the murder was given a fine, probation, and community service; the city responded with looting, murder, and setting storefronts on fire. He said, “No matter if you are a Korean liquor store owner or a trained officer, all we need is the smallest hint or assumption about your intentions and we’ve made an instinctive decision to discern your guilt, to judge your character. I have witnessed lives of individuals subjected to prejudice in a system built for their downfall. I suffer every day that I put on that uniform, knowing how many lives we have ruined, families we’ve broken, and knowing that we’ve gotten away with our mistakes.” 2012


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