This article offers a new way of exploring African American protest in Los Angeles in the 1980s and 1990s. It moves beyond reductive explanations of an inevitable economic and cultural conflict between African Americans and Koreans to examine the role of urban space and understanding of “spatial justice” in fostering anger and resentment. Activists in Black Los Angeles had for a long time targeted liquor stores as a form of neighborhood blight in South Central. The article considers three organizational approaches to protesting liquor stores: 1) The South Central Organizing Committee, a coalition of local Black churches, whose morality politics understood liquor stores as representing neighborhood blight and enabling local crime; 2) The Brotherhood Crusade, an organization steeped in Black nationalist thinking, which emphasized economic independence and community ownership in conjunction with xenophobic leanings toward Korean shopkeepers; 3) The Community Coalition for Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment, which looked to deescalate racial tensions by refocusing the “problem” of liquor stores and their damaging effects on local quality of life as a public-health issue. Rethinking the controversy and tragedy caused by the death of Latasha Harlins as a conflict over contested spaces, rather than interracial hostility, helps us to understand the ways African Americans claimed space and connected social justice to physical spaces in the post-civil rights era despite differing tactics and objectives. Exploring these organizations leads to the conclusion that scholars need to take greater care to consider the role of space and the built environment when examining urban social movements.

The text of this article is only available as a PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.