Editor's Note: "CalGang" is a non-public database that started as a way to help Los Angeles law enforcement keep track of gang members and affiliates, and has since expanded to cover all of California. There are now an estimated 200,000 individuals in the CalGang database, some as young as 10 years old. There is no notification sent to an individual once they are registered in the database, and the criteria for inclusion has been highly criticized. A bill moving through the state legislature (SB 458) would require officials to notify individuals and their parents or guardians if they are underage and designated as gang members, and would enable them to contest the designation before being entered into the database. Below is a collection of quotes by young people from the Central Valley town of Merced, who were asked to share their thoughts about CalGang and SB 458.
"It could be really easy [for youth] to end up in the CalGang database in Merced because I like to think that even though we consider Merced "ghetto" in a way, we all sort of get along -- gangsters talk to skaters, and so on. It's easy to be labeled for the way you dress or who you talk to.
I don't even think that [notifying parents] should be questionable. If someone is under 18 and they are put in the database then their parents should be notified, no matter the circumstances. If it were my child, I would like to know and would have a right to!"
~ Diego Sandoval, 18
"Getting put in the CalGang database could have nothing to do with an individual's affiliation and could be an issue of simply living in the wrong neighborhood, going to the wrong school or being related to the wrong people. So I think it could be very easy to be recorded as a gang member in Merced.
It should be everyone's right to know what the government labels him or her as. This is America, land of the free, man! It is a violation of rights, especially with minors."
~ Emily Castrigno, 17
"As a young person living in Merced, where gang culture is common, I think it is definitely easy for someone to end up in the CalGang database. I do believe parents of underage children should be notified if their child is added to the database. I think anyone added to the database should be notified. People should have the right to know who is putting what information about them out there."
~ Alyssa Castro, 20
"Over half the people I know are gang-related in some way or other and it seems that the criteria for being put in the database are very minimal. I do not think parents should be notified if their child is in the CalGang database. I think the individual person who is in the database should be notified."
~ Jjakoba Starr Predmore, 17
"From what I have seen and experienced, the cops know what is happening and who is gang related and who is not. I believe that parents should be notified if their child is in the CalGang database. They have the right to know and if the child was to be affiliated with gangs, the parents could take immediate action and try to find a solution to the problem. Even though the government is not perfect, it is trying to fix itself by passing laws for the betterment of we the people."
~ Fernando Almaraz, 17
"It would be easy to end up in the CalGang database living in Merced, because people right away think you are in a gang just by your physical appearance and who you hang out with. For example, my boyfriend Adrian told me that a few months ago, he and his brother were walking and out of nowhere they were stopped and asked where they were going. They were just walking but I guess since his brother is full of tattoos, they looked like gangbangers. Another example would be when my friend and I used to walk from Golden Valley to her house by the fairgrounds. One day, one of the El Nido teachers saw me and asked me where was I going. She asked what I was doing on the bad side of Merced and to not be doing anything bad. I was in the wrong, just because I was on the wrong side of Merced.
I think some parents are unaware of what their children do, maybe because they work a lot. They should be aware of what is going on with their kid."
~ Lisbeth Vasquez, 16
"Heck yes, it is easy to get labeled as a gangster or an 'associate' to a gangster in Merced. I think about 60 percent of people [here] are somehow, someway 'associated' with gang activity. Just knowing [that] makes me and others in We'ced feel scared or angry that [we] can be in this CalGang database. It's like finding out your bathroom had spy cameras the entire time. [But] even if a person has a friend who is associated with a gang doesn't mean that they themselves are in a gang. I think the person who is labeled in this database should know, if they are underage there is even more reason for them to find out."
~ Deborah Juarez, 17
"In a small community like Merced, it would be easy to end up in the CalGang database, [and] as a young person living in Merced, it would be even easier. I have friends who are associated with gangs but we still hang out every now and then. We share some interests like video games, sports and watching movies. I could be hanging out with them just grabbing some tacos, and bam -- I am now labeled as gang-affiliated. I think parents should be notified if their underage youth are put in the database. This would help let the parents know that there is a problem, so the parents can search for appropriate solutions. If the parents don't know that their kids are in gangs, they might find out the day one of them gets hurt or in trouble."
~ Jesus Perez, 18
"Merced is infamous for its poverty and gang activities. It's sad to note that everyone here knows at least one person involved with gangs. With lack of transparency in the CalGang database, it's hard for the average person here to know if they are on it, so they may be able to do something about it.
If youth are put in the database, it should be a right for parents to know so there can be action on their part to remedy the situation. Why should this information be kept from the public?"
~ Austin Corpuz, 18
"Every kid, teenager or young adult is still looking for their identity, so everyone wants to fit in and be cool. The trend can be a certain kind of clothes and that may have them looking like they are a gang member. On top of that, friends and family are in gangs, so are we supposed to ignore our friends and family? I think that notifying parents isn't enough. If you're over 18 and trying to get a job or a house, the police can share that information. If that information can be shared with other people, why not us?"
~ Kalvin Saelee, 17
We'Ced Youth Media is a project of New America Media.