LOS ANGELES – Spend a few minutes in South Los Angeles with Larry Sanders and it's easy to see he’s a man about town.
"I grew up here, so I know basically everybody here," Sanders said.
He is a gang intervention worker with the city and is part of a violence reduction program that aims to keep kids out of trouble.
On this particular Friday night, he’s helping with the city’s "Summer Night Lights" event. The parks are kept open late to encourage the community to come out, enjoy some food, and take part in various activities and resources.
"Trying to help them not get into the gangs, to keep them out of it. Make ‘em go to school. Get them good grades man, become something," Sanders said.
It's what makes this story even more ironic.
Earlier this year, Sanders says he was hanging out with some friends here at Green Meadows Park when police approached them.
"They jump out and they come over to us, 'Hey you guys, we got a call that you all was drinking and you’re loud.' I was like, 'There’s nothing on the table, so what do you mean drinking?'"
He says officers interviewed them, asked them to show their IDs and raise theirs shirts to show any tattoos. Sanders revealed the tattoo on his arm.
"The music notes are actually the cross and the cloth around the cross is the piano keys," he explained. "You can have a tattoo and not be a gang member."
A couple weeks later, he said he got a letter in the mail saying that he was considered a gang member.
"I’m like 'Wow!'" he said.
The LAPD had entered him in the state’s gang database—accusing him of being involved in the very activity he works daily to prevent.
"You can’t stereotype everybody that you just pull up on. You got some bad cats out here, but then you’ve got some bad police out here that don’t really care about nothing," Sanders said.
"Ninety percent of my clients, people who come to me and ask to be removed, don’t belong on the gang database," said Sean Garcia-Leys, Sander's attorney with the Urban Peace Institute.
"If gang membership typically lasts less than two years and anyone who’s added to the database is kept for a minimum of five years, that tells you that the majority of people in the database, based on that alone are likely to be no longer gang members if they were at all."
Sanders says he’s never been in a gang.
"Not interested in joining," he said. "I sing. It's what I do," he laughed.
His rap name is L.V., short for "Large Variety," and his big claim to fame is singing the vocals for Coolio’s Grammy-winning song “Gangsta’s Paradise” in 1995.
"It still pays the bills, thank God," Sanders said.
Nowadays, he still sings with a rap group called the South Central Cartel and after decades of caring for his community, he says he has no plans to leave it.
"You can hang around gangs, but that doesn’t make you a gang member," Sanders said. "I’m hoping that I’ll be taken off, but if not, we gonna keep fighting until I am taken off."
Until then, he’ll be making the rounds at parks in South L.A., keeping kids from becoming actual gang members.