Organizations File Class Action Suit Against Gang Database

In Violent Crimes by RSF

On behalf of Rosenblum Schwartz & Fry posted in Violent Crimes on Monday, July 9, 2018.

Several organizations have banded together in a federal lawsuit against the Chicago police department over the use of a gang member database. The database compiles information about suspected gang members based on gang attire, tattoos, and other distinguishing characteristics. Many other cities use similar resources.

Opponents argue that the database reinforces racial profiling. The list names 68,000 juveniles and as many as 195,000 persons of interest in total. People on the list face heightened police surveillance, civil rights infringements, threat of deportation and damaging quality of life issues

Not aligned with the facts

The database is 95 percent black and Hispanic, with more than 15,000 of the persons named being over the age of 50. Studies show that gang membership is most common among youth, ages 13-25. Science Daily shares an in-depth study that shows police reports of gang demographics don’t always match real life.  

Racial profiling and civil rights violations are always a serious matter, but they aren’t the only focus of the new federal lawsuit. The coalition of groups behind it don’t want to restrict the police’s ability to do their jobs, they want oversight and privacy. Groups have asked for notice that a suspect is included in the list, the right to appeal inclusion and protection of the list to keep it from being leaked to third parties.

Lifelong consequences for those who are named

Chicago’s current list shows little concern for the damage it might do. If named on the list, an employer might deny a job opportunity or a landlord might seek a new tenant. Inclusion on the list, based on observations like clothing, tattoos and where somebody lives, should not serve as barriers to economic advancement. Similarly, if somebody makes a mistake in their youth, it should not restrict their opportunity in middle-age. The justice system requires due process before conviction of a crime. Is a gang database a violation of this principle?