Radio show 'Gang Talk' takes on violence in South L.A.
In the living room of her South L.A. home, 68-year-old Lita Herron pointed to a bullet hole in the stained-glass window.
Tissue was stuffed into the opening.
Herron still has the bullet. “I used to carry it around in my pocket,” she said. “It let me know that nobody’s immune.”
Herron has watched her children lose their friends to violence. She’s witnessed shootings — at a funeral and in her Vermont Square neighborhood. She's held a fatally wounded man in her arms.
After being out on the streets of South L.A. for years as an activist, Herron’s trying a different approach in hopes of making things better: The grandmother of six drives every Thursday evening to a wood-paneled radio station in Inglewood, sits down in front of a microphone and starts talking.
“I’m a little upset because it’s been a terrible holiday,” she said after a string of shootings Labor Day weekend that left five dead.
“You know when you pull that trigger on that other man, you pull that trigger on yourself too,” she says in a voice that carries the cadence of a preacher mixed with the comfort of a mother. “It’s just a matter of time before someone catches you.”
Called “Gang Talk,” her radio show was born from the violence in the streets. Herron and Skipp Townsend, a gang intervention worker, host frank discussions with former gang members, young people in the community, men and women who have lost family members to violence, and those working to make a difference in South L.A.
They've interviewed former L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck. Recently, they talked with a private investigator working on behalf of the family of Ezell Ford Jr., who was shot and killed by a police officer in August.
“We’re going to ask those tough questions, but we’re not there to attack them and put them on the spot and make a mockery of the interview,” Townsend said.
Shows have concentrated on post-traumatic stress disorder and the sex trade in South L.A. The purpose is to create a forum where guests can speak honestly about what it’s like to live in neighborhoods where violence is common.
The guests give a voice to those who have learned hard lessons on the streets.
“For me, it was a big hoax,” said Jason, who gave only his first name when he talked about gang life in Inglewood. “I’ve been tricked. It took so long for me to realize it that it’s actually sad. I’d like to share with the young brothers that it’s simply not worth it.”
David Williams agreed to be a “Gang Talk” guest just weeks after his stepson Aveion Curtis Bolden, 20, was killed. Bolden was on a double date in June when a car pulled alongside and 10 shots were fired, killing him and girlfriend Jacinta Walker, 18.
After the shooting began, the man in the car with Bolden and Walker fired back, killing a passenger in the shooter’s vehicle. Prosecutors declined to file charges against Bolden’s companion.
“They buried him on my birthday, June 27,” Bolden’s stepfather told “Gang Talk” listeners.
He also described what it was like trying to console his wife, Janet Sanders-Bolden.
“In a situation like that, I have to tell you that I don’t know what to say to her,” he said. “I can’t tell no woman that lost her child: ‘I understand how you feel.’ ”
Williams, who was known as “Termite” with the Eight-Tray Gangsters, told Herron and Townsend that he once had turned to drugs and alcohol to deal with low self-esteem.
“I see a lot of that out in the community now, where youngsters are using drugs and alcohol, and it’s destroying them.” he said. “It’s giving them a false sense of pride and arrogance and invincibility. It’s a solution to their problems.”
“It’s a Band-Aid solution, though,” Townsend replied.
Recently, Herron and Townsend hosted a five-year anniversary show with Charlotte Austin-Jordan, who lost a 13-year-old daughter and a 25-year-old son to gang violence.
Herron choked up during the introductions: Austin-Jordan’s daughter, Jamee Finney, had gone to school with Herron’s daughter.
“The grief that she suffered from — it touched me. It still touches me,” Herron said.
Jamee had been riding home from the store with a friend when the car they were in was sprayed with bullets by gang members looking to retaliate for a failed drug deal. The gang members mistook the car Jamee and her friend were in for their target, and killed them both.
Jamee’s hands were so disfigured that they were covered by gloves for the funeral.
“Family, from 1988, this wound is still fresh in us,” Herron said. “And we don’t want you to think it’s going to ever be forgotten.”
"Gang Talk" airs at 6 p.m. Thursdays on KTYM-AM (1460)
UPDATE Oct. 24: This post was updated with station information at 7:17 a.m.
Photo: Skipp Townsend joins Lita Herron and Andre Lowdown Christian, from left, in prayer before an airing of Herron and Townsend’s radio show, “Gang Talk,” in Inglewood. Credit: Francine Orr, Los Angeles Times. Note: A previous version of this caption reversed the order of two of the subjects in the photo.