Koreans and blacks at odds, again Different worlds: Special efforts must be made to end friction between two communities.

December 14, 1996

A NEIGHBORHOOD grocery that was closed by the city health department for selling bad meat has again raised the lid on the simmering feud between the Korean-American and African-American communities. The latest tussle occurred in Baltimore's Pimlico neighborhood, but it could just as easily have happened in any American city with those two groups.

The targeting of Korean-American businesses by Los Angeles rioters following the Rodney King verdict in 1992 was in part attributed to black rage over the light sentence handed down a few weeks earlier to a Korean-American grocer who fatally shot an unarmed black teen-age girl suspected of shoplifting.

In this city, Korean-Americans took to the streets in protest last year after a mostly-black jury did not convict an African-American suspect accused of murdering a Korean-American college student in a robbery. It took months for those tensions to subside, but they resurfaced this summer amid complaints about the quality of food sold to blacks at Canaan Food Outlet, which was opened in August by Eun Mu Lee.

Picketing of the Park Heights Avenue store led to health department inspections and subsequent citations for storing unrefrigerated eggs next to a toilet, selling moldy deli meats and pouring bleach over meat to avoid lab tests. Mr. Lee has lost his store license, but that sanction won't repair the further erosion of Korean-American/African-American relations in the city that this episode has caused.

That the problem goes far beyond the tainted meat Mr. Lee apparently tried to sell is evident in the racist and stereotypical remarks heard during a Dec. 6 health department hearing on his case. Similar but more polite comments were expressed during a televised town meeting in October at Bethel AME Church to address relations between blacks and Korean-Americans. The town meeting followed a trip to South Korea by 25 local black and Korean-American ministers and community leaders.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke says the city needs a Korean-American/African-American group similar to the Black-Jewish Forum of Baltimore, the BLEWS, which was created to ease tensions between those two communities. He believes a grass-roots effort will work better than any fence-mending attempt by City Hall. Toward that end, the leadership already shown by local religious institutions must continue.

Pub Date: 12/14/96

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