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Officers approached Desmond Bryant when he was 18 asking “what set” he belonged to.
“If you’re not a gang member, why are you hanging around other gang members?” he remembers them asking. He said the police were referring to his brother and cousins.
That’s when Bryant first suspected he was being tracked as a gang member.
Wichita police wield the power to label anyone they deem suspicious as a gang member or associate. The Master Gang List, their confidential database, tracks the names of about 3,000 Wichita residents — even if they haven’t committed a crime.
Bryant, now 32 and a published author, said he was added to the list after police designated his relatives as gang affiliates.
Years after his police run-in at 18, Bryant and his friends were pulled over. Sitting on the curb, he listened to officers radio a signal 33 — a record check signifying that someone in the group was on the Gang List.
“The only reason you find out (your status) is to be in police contact,” Bryant said.
Who is on the Wichita gang list?
The two statewide associations filed a class action lawsuit in April on behalf of Progeny, a juvenile justice advocacy group. Police refused to give a requested copy of the Gang List to the plaintiffs or The Wichita Beacon, instead providing limited data.
Police policy in Kansas liberally defines who qualifies as a gang member — citing locations an individual frequents and who they hang out with as valid signifiers — but doesn’t require a person to be charged with a criminal offense for a designation on the Gang List.
As stated in Wichita Police Department policy, a law enforcement officer can nominate an addition to the Gang List without requiring any notice be given to the alleged offender. Officers only “attempt to contact” juveniles who match the criteria to be added to the Gang List.
The list is composed of individuals listed as inactive or active gang associates — including names of those who are deceased.
The crime context for Wichita’s gang list
A report from the Kansas Bureau of Investigation found that gang activities and drive-by incidents made up 5.4% of total statewide murders in 2019 — the least common circumstance included in the report.In comparison, domestic violence totaled 25.4% of 2019’s total murders; drug deals accounted for 9.2%.
Sharon Brett, legal director of ACLU Kansas, said the Gang List criminalizes innocent and constitutionally protected activity.
“What you wear, who you associate with, what businesses you frequent… all of that could make you suspicious in the eyes of WPD,” Brett said.
- Data provided to The Beacon by police shows that although Black residents make up only 10.9% of the city’s population, they account for 60% of the Gang List.
- Latinos — about 17.2% of Wichita residents according to recent census data — account for 25% of the list. White residents are only 6% of the Gang List, despite making up the majority of the city population.
- According to Kansas law, it takes one individual officer to characterize a person as a criminal gang member or associate. No due process is required, and no procedure to be removed from the list exists.
The Wichita Beacon filed a Kansas Open Records Act request to Wichita police for a copy of the Gang List and policies and procedures related to the administration of it. Police denied the request, saying that releasing it would not be in the public interest and would endanger life and safety. They also said the guidelines governing the list are included in the department policy manual posted online.
The presence of a confidential Gang List indicates a state of surveillance in Wichita, Brett said. Who you play basketball with and which QuikTrip you pump gas at are significant choices to make.
Bryant said the Gang List gives WPD a lot of power. “We could (look suspicious) walking to a basketball game. Why?” he asked. “They study us. It’s not that we look suspicious — we look familiar.
“If there was a gang list, it should be limited to people who have been charged and proved to be a gang member. Not because some individual thinks they are,” said Teresa Woody, litigation director at Kansas Appleseed.
Wichita Police declined to comment on the Gang List and related issues because of the pending lawsuit. However, Chief Gordon Ramsay addressed Bryant’s situation.
“We made changes and continue to make changes in collaboration with our community and we would welcome Desmond to come back to the table,” Ramsay said in an emailed statement.