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Court rules ACLU Kansas, Kansas Appleseed can move forward with Wichita Police gang list lawsuit

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A United States District Court has ruled that the ACLU of Kansas and the Kansas Appleseed can move forward with its lawsuit against the City of Wichita.

The organizations sued the city and the Wichita police department last year on behalf of the juvenile justice nonprofit Progeny and several people included on the list of alleged gang members and gang associates, claiming their use of a gang list is unconstitutional.

The city filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, but a federal court judge denied the motion earlier this week.

A city spokesperson declined to comment on the case.

Those suing said that people are put on the list without notice or without criminal charges being filed.

“It could be that you're associating with somebody that they think is also a gang member, and associating – I think in the Wichita Police minds – can mean just being in their presence,” said Teresa Woody with Kansas Appleseed, a nonprofit advocacy organization. “It can mean wearing a certain color that they associate with the gang membership or it can be … having a certain tattoo that they think is gang related.”

Woody said the police department also makes it difficult for names to be removed from the list.

“There's no way to get off, and there's no way to challenge,” Woody said. “You can't ask for some kind of… hearing or due process if you say, ‘No, I'm not a gang member.’”

People on the list say it can be hard for them to get jobs and housing. ACLU of Kansas Legal Director Sharon Brett said the list, with more than 3,000 names, disproportionately targets Black and brown communities.

“Courts are really waking up to the fact that these gang lists that have been in place for decades, have significant constitutional implications that can be really harmful for communities,” Brett said about a recent ruling on a similar case in Boston.

Being on the list – even unknowingly – can lead to harsher sentencing or probation conditions.

“Your bail could be set much higher automatically,” Brett said. “If you are given probation, you will likely be assigned special conditions of probation that have to do with being a member of a gang, a curfew at 6 p.m.

“You might be prohibited from frequenting numerous businesses or associating being seen with other people who are on the gang list. And that's extremely problematic because you don't know who else is on the gang list.”

Kylie Cameron (she/her) is a general assignment reporter for KMUW. Before KMUW, Kylie was a digital producer at KWCH, and served as editor in chief of The Sunflower at Wichita State. You can follow her on Twitter @bykyliecameron.