The Communist Party is a gang and Chicago public housing activist William “A.K.” Small is a gang member, according to Illinois State Police records obtained by The Chicago Reporter.
The documents reveal that Small’s association with the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade is recorded in the state’s database of suspected gang members. The Brigade is a political group that advocates for public housing residents and against police abuses. Small was also identified as a gang member in a Chicago Police Department report, which may violate a consent decree restricting the city’s collection of information on political affiliations.
The state police database, known as the LEADS Gang Member File, alerts police officers to potential dangers when they stop individuals. The Reporter’s September story, “The Usual Suspects,” found that the database includes more than 68,000 suspected gang members. Individuals are not informed when they are added to the list. A Cook County database of more than 16,000 suspected gang members includes about 1,600 who have no arrest records, the Reporter found.
While LEADS identifies Small’s gang affiliation as “Communist Party,” the state police say the party is not included in their official list of criminal gangs. Only recognized criminal street gangs should be included, according to the LEADS manual.
“We try to safeguard against things like this happening, but some fall through the cracks. Now that you brought it to our attention, we will do something about it,” said Master Sgt. Lincoln Hampton, a spokesman for the state police. The state police will contact the Chicago Housing Authority police, which entered Small into the system, and ask them to remove him, Hampton said.
Small, a white, 31-year-old Near North Side resident, was added to the LEADS gang file in June 1996 after he was arrested by the CHA police for alleged criminal trespassing and striking an officer while handing out fliers at the Henry Horner Homes, a public housing development on the city’s Near West Side, police records show. These charges were later dropped.
While she was unable to provide details on this case, CHA Media Coordinator Vivian Potter said “the procedure is for officers to fill out gang cards according to what the person they have arrested tells them.”
Small has been arrested 14 times since 1990 and convicted of one misdemeanor, police records show. The charges included trespassing on government land, criminal damage to property, disorderly conduct, mob action and resisting arrest. The Reporter was able to review 13 Cook County Court files, and all those charges appeared to be related to Small’s activism. One file was not available.
From the LEADS database, Small’s “gang” affiliation found its way into a Chicago traffic stop report, police documents show. When Small was pulled over for a traffic violation following an anti-police brutality protest on Oct. 11, 1997, Chicago Police Officer Dan Mieszcak noted in his report that Small was “a member of the Communist Party, last arrested by CHA police on 06/96 for battery.”
Including such information in a Chicago police report may violate a 1982 consent decree that limits the city’s ability to collect information on political affiliations, according to Richard Gutman, an attorney for the Alliance to End Repression, one of the original plaintiffs in the consent decree case. But Jennifer Hoyle, spokeswoman for the city Department of Law, told the Reporter it was an “incidental reference” and therefore did not violate the decree.
The Red Squad Consent Decree resolved class-action lawsuits by the Alliance and the ACLU of Illinois charging the Chicago Police intelligence unit with spying on groups during the 1960s and early 1970s because of their political beliefs. In 1997, the city of Chicago filed a motion in federal court to modify the decree so that Chicago police could collect more information on groups.
Small’s lawyer, Douglas G. Shreffler, said his client has been singled out by police for selective prosecution based on his “gang” record. Shreffler said he may challenge a February 1997 arrest of Small after a rally at the Cabrini-Green housing development in a case scheduled to go to court Dec. 14. “If they characterize him for his ideological, political views under the guise of being a gang member, it stinks. It is an invasion of privacy and may be in violation of the consent decree.”
Small said what happened to him is not an aberration. “It means I must be doing well as an activist, that they would keep secret files on me,” he said. “But tracking people this way criminalizes a whole generation, and has a chilling effect on protesting. –¦ It should set off alarm bells.”
Karen Shields and Heather Kuipers helped research this article.