LOS ANGELES — Inside a garage-turned recording studio in Watts, 59-year-old Larry Sanders is working on one of his latest songs with his group the South Central Cartel.
Sanders, whose artist name is LV, was born and raised in South Los Angeles. He grew up around gangs but never joined one, he said. Instead, he has spent decades singing about their impact on his community. One of the highlights was singing the chorus of the 1990’s hit Gangster’s Paradise by Coolio.
“Been spending most of our lives, living in a gangster’s paradise… Tell me why are we, so blind to see, that the ones we hurt are you and me,” sings Sanders, who then goes on to explain the lyrics. “It’s more or less for you to wake up. Why are we hurting each other, stop hurting each other.”
He said he never imagined that after decades of singing about these issues and volunteering to steer kids in the right direction, the LAPD would accuse him of being in a gang and place him on the CalGang database.
“How do they just automatically say I’m a gang member? I do so much around the park, keep kids out of this. That’s like putting me in jail knowing I’ve done nothing,” Sanders said.
Thirteen miles away, 40-year-old Phil Young is walking through Baldwin Hills. He’s a member of the gang the Black P Stones and was also placed on the CalGang database.
“CalGangs affects everybody in my community for one reason or another because sometimes people that have nothing to do with gang culture get caught up in it,” Young said.
Young owns up to the crimes that have landed him in prison but he said his freedom should never have been taken away with "gang enhancement" charges.
“I’ve done like 3 to 5 years for violations due to being on [the] CalGang list. You’re already punishing a person for whatever they’ve done and you’re just adding on to it because of the community that they live in or the people they associate with, what sense does that make?”
In recent months the accuracy of the CalGang system has been called into question, there are reports that LAPD officers falsified information when placing people on the list. In response, the LAPD and Attorney General’s office have launched investigations. In mid-June, LAPD placed a moratorium on using the database until further notice.
Spectrum News 1 reached out to the LAPD for this story but they said they had no comment.
For his part, Sanders was able to clear his name but said this is just another example of a flawed system that impacts communities of color.
“Can none of us breathe since this is what’s been going on for years,” he said.