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Calls for Justice Mark Funeral of Slain Grocer

Communities: Woman known as 'Mama' is mourned by hundreds in South-Central L.A.

February 12, 1999|STEVE BERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Amid angry demands that her killers be brought to justice, hundreds of residents Thursday mourned the death of popular grocery store owner Chung Bok Hong, who was affectionately known in South-Central Los Angeles as "Mama."

Eulogists and friends praised Hong as a peacemaker and unifier who used kindness to repair a history of strained relations in the Korean and African American communities.

Hong, 52, was killed last week in front of her husband and son when two gunmen robbed them in the parking lot of her grocery store at the corner of 54th and Van Ness streets. The son, Eddie, 21, was shot in the leg, but had recovered enough Thursday to attend the funeral. Earlier this week, the Los Angeles City Council, at the urging of members Mark Ridley-Thomas and Ruth Galanter, offered a $25,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the killers.

Hundreds of South-Central residents packed St. Brigid Catholic Church to pay respects, including Ridley-Thomas and Young-suk Suh, who is chairman of the Korean Federation.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday February 14, 1999 Home Edition Metro Part B Page 3 Metro Desk 2 inches; 69 words Type of Material: Correction
Shooting death--A story in Friday's Times inaccurately described the circumstances of a 1991 shooting death of an African American teenager by a Korean American shopkeeper. The story said the 15-year-old was shot in the back after she attempted to steal some merchandise. However, the customer had money in her hand, and the merchant, who said she had thought the teenager was planning to steal a bottle of juice that was in her backpack, later was convicted of manslaughter and put on probation.

Inside the cavernous chapel, the Rev. Norman Johnson railed against "coldhearted evil" and said authorities must find the killers because "the spilling of innocent blood must be avenged."

On the steps of the church, former customers talked about how Hong gave them credit for groceries or guidance to keep them out of trouble.

A few blocks away, graffiti writers had covered a wall outside her store with messages revealing a tangle of emotions. "Nothing but love for you, Mama," said one. "They will pay," said another.

The outpouring of emotion stood in sharp contrast to the days shortly after the 1992 riots when city officials had to organize community meetings to head off trouble between South-Central residents and Korean Americans. Tensions had been heightened when a Korean store owner shot a young black woman in the back after she attempted to steal some merchandise. Later, many Korean businesses were destroyed in the 1992 riots. But Hong's was spared.

Jerrell White, an African American resident who has lived in the neighborhood for 34 years, said Hong was accepted in South-Central because she treated people with dignity, regardless of their station in life.

"She didn't take no B.S. from you," he said. "But that was all right, because she was Mama."

In his eulogy, Johnson called her store "the light of the community. We must remember her by acknowledging that she stood for the whole of the human family."

"Her goodness was repaid with evil," he said. "Her compassion repaid with coldheartedness."

Prompting a chorus of amens and applause, Johnson said, "We can never allow such a deed to happen among us without a cry of protest."

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