Open in App
  • Local
  • U.S.
  • Election
  • Politics
  • Crime
  • Sports
  • Lifestyle
  • Education
  • Real Estate
  • Newsletter
  • Kansas Reflector

    Wichita pays $625K to settle lawsuit over police use of discriminatory ‘gang list’

    By Rachel Mipro,


    Progeny executive director Marquetta Atkins said the Wichita gang list lawsuit settlement was one step forward, following a Tuesday announcement of the city's vote to end the lawsuit. She is seen here during during an April 17, 2023, interview at the Progeny office in Wichita. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

    TOPEKA — The Wichita City Council has agreed to pay $625,000 to settle a lawsuit over the police department’s use of a “gang list” that for decades allowed officers to scrutinize and harass young Black and Latino residents for living in certain neighborhoods, attending funerals, wearing particular clothes, making hand gestures or having tattoos.

    The city already had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees defending the use of the gang list since being sued in 2021 by the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas and Kansas Appleseed on behalf of Progeny, a youth advocacy group that works to prevent the incarceration of young people and reform the state’s juvenile incarceration system.

    The advocacy groups say Wichita police used the gang list to discriminate against Black and Latino residents with little or no criminal evidence.

    On Tuesday, the Wichita City Council voted 7-0 to settle the case.

    “There are generations and generations of damage and systemic loss that have been created to hurt and harm Black and Brown communities,” said Marquetta Atkins, executive director of Progeny . “And we’re still perpetuating that to this day. And that healing is not going to be done just because this has happened.”

    “But,” she added, “it’s a step in the marathon to get there.”

    Black residents account for more than 50% of the individuals on the gang list but only 7.5% of Wichita’s population, according to the ACLU’s analysis of 2022 data. Latino residents make up almost 30% of those on the list but only 14.1% of the city’s population. White residents, 68% of Wichita’s population, account for only 6% of those on the gang list.

    People were placed on the list without notice or opportunity to challenge the designation. Then, they faced increased police scrutiny and harassment, harm to reputation, loss of housing and employment opportunities, and other damage. Those who were convicted of a crime faced higher bond amounts, more severe probation and parole conditions, and longer sentences.

    Tuesday’s settlement tightens the criteria the department can use to place people on the gang list, adds a review process to examine if people should really be on the list, and implements a public accountability process where people can find out if they are on the list and challenge the placement.

    Plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit are set to receive $550,000 to settle claims against the city and cover legal costs. The city also will pay $75,000 for a “special master” to provide third-party oversight of the list for three years.

    Teresa Woody, litigation director for Kansas Appleseed, estimated the agreement will result in an immediate 60% reduction of people on the list.

    Before Tuesday’s settlement, Wichita police could use a broad criteria, including “associating with known criminal street gang members” to land people on the list for visiting people, businesses or neighborhoods that police deemed “gang associated.” There was no requirement that individuals commit, be charged with, or even be suspected of a criminal offense to be put on the list.

    Police criteria for gang identification included tracking people residing in a “gang area,” looking for certain hand symbols, gestures or tattoos. Other “gang identifiers” police officers were instructed to look for included bandanas, jackets, hair beads, weaves, extensions and other commonplace clothing and fashion choices.

    Kunyu Ching, staff attorney for the ACLU of Kansas, said the police practices were unconstitutional and egregious.

    “I think a prime example of that is the way that people have been added or renewed on the gang list for attending funerals of loved ones,” Ching said. “I think that’s probably one of the most egregious things that we’ve seen in this case. That punishes you for who your family members are, who your friends are.”

    Under the revised policy, police officers must observe an individual in the company of known gang members two or more times while participating in criminal street gang activity before placing them on the list. The officer also has to explain why they believe the person was engaging in criminal activity. Events such as funerals, weddings, family celebrations, concerts or sporting events, education events, or religious or political gatherings cannot be presumed to be criminal street gang activity.

    Atkins and her youth-led team at Progeny have been fighting for the reform for years.

    Atkins said the police actions were damaging to the Wichita community. She recalled how her son, an honor roll student, was walking home from school during a lunch break. He was stopped by a police officer, who asked him what gang he was affiliated with.

    In another encounter, a Progeny youth member coordinated his hat to his T-shirt and was questioned by an officer, who asked him if he was in a gang.

    “Matching your clothes should not constitute you being a gang member,” Atkins said. “Going to an event should not constitute you being a gang member. Going to a family member’s home should not constitute you being a gang member. Living in a certain community should not constitute you being a gang member. It’s harmful to our kids, it’s harmful to their mental health. I’m happy that we have governance around it now.”

    The post Wichita pays $625K to settle lawsuit over police use of discriminatory ‘gang list’ appeared first on Kansas Reflector .

    Expand All
    Comments / 0
    Add a Comment
    Most Popular newsMost Popular

    Comments / 0