In 1993, then-Mayor Richard M. Daley took a chance on a 27-year-old with a checkered past.
Rick Munoz was “affiliated” with a gang that terrorized Little Village. He was hanging out on street corners, a self-described “neighborhood thug and hustler.” Three times, Munoz pleaded guilty to charges of cocaine possession or unlawful use of a weapon.
He had the kind of background that surely would have landed him on the Chicago Police Department’s gang database.
Now, Munoz is fighting back against a gang database he claims is unfairly destroying the reputations and futures of neighborhood youth.
Two days after announcing his decision to retire from the City Council, Munoz introduced an ordinance that would prohibit the Chicago Police Department from designating individuals as gang members and maintaining a gang database unless Inspector General Joe Ferguson “concludes that CPD’s gang designations have a legitimate law enforcement-related purpose that outweighs the harm caused to individuals” so labeled.
The designations would also have to be “verified in accordance with professionally accepted standards and regularly audited” and be “free from racial discrimination.”
Those included on the list would have to “receive notice and opportunity to challenge their designation.” And CPD would be “prohibited from sharing gang designations” or information contained in the database with any third party.
Until the City Council enacts those protections, the Chicago Police Department would be prohibited from adding to the existing gang database or sharing information with third parties.
Munoz introduced the ordinance one month after a federal lawsuit seeking class action status was filed that labeled the gang database unconstitutional, discriminatory and riddled with errors.
“Thirty-five years ago, when I was hanging out, I would have been on that list. Not as a gang member, but just as somebody from the neighborhood,” Munoz said Wednesday.
“I’m concerned about them labeling people and destroying them. I’m doing this because too many people on that list shouldn’t be on it. It has to do with the neighborhood I represent and the fact that the list is unfair. And it has to do with the fact that people should have the ability to appeal and get off the list.”
Munoz was asked whether his ultimate goal is to get rid of the gang database altogether.
“No. I’m saying they should have a database, but they should be codified and regulated by the City Council. And people should have a way to get off of it,” he said.
Ferguson refused to pass judgment on an ordinance he hasn’t seen. But, the inspector general said he’s held hearings across the city during the course of his ongoing review of the gang database and gotten an earful from concerned Chicagoans.
“There are significant consequences for being placed on the database. There’s no transparency. There’s no accountability, which is a matter of great worry and concern from communities most impacted by it,” Ferguson said Wednesday.
Ferguson said the first of his two reports on the gang database will be released by the end of this year.
But even before then, he argued there is “absolutely” a way for CPD to do it differently to alleviate concerns. He cited “models for it around the country.”
“A lot of it has to do with standards, internal auditing and public transparency with a right to actually appeal your placement on the list at a subsequent time when you’ve moved on in life,” Ferguson said.
“You’ve grown up. You’re a contributing member to society. But you’re still adversely impacted by the fact that something you did as a youth results in your being on this list.”
According to the lawsuit filed last month, the gang database lists more than 128,000 adults. Of those, 70 percent are black, 25 percent are Latino and less than 5 percent are white.
The lawsuit alleges CPD officers are given “unlimited discretion” to add to the list.
Though the number of juveniles in the database is unconfirmed, the lawsuit estimates there are between 28,000 and 68,000 of them.
Meanwhile, it says less than 1,100 people are listed as members of historically white gangs, “and many of the people listed as members of these gangs are people of color.”
The database leaves out the Chicago Outfit and biker gangs like the Outlaws, according to the lawsuit. And it contains only 23 white supremacists.
Two people in the database are allegedly listed as 132 years old, and 13 are listed as 118 years old – “clear errors,” according to the lawsuit.
Munoz said Wednesday he is “negotiating” with the mayor’s office on the proposed reforms. Mayor Rahm Emanuel confirmed that.
That’s why the ordinance was sent to the Committee on Public Safety for a hearing.
On the day he appointed Munoz to fill the City Council seat vacated by his political mentor, Jesus Garcia, Daley made the same argument that Munoz is making now. That youthful indiscretions should not become a permanent label.
“If your child has a drug problem, do you ship them off and forget them for the rest of their life?” Daley said on that day.
“Young people, regardless of who they are, have difficulties in their lives. What matters is how they turn it around.”