Where A Color Can Be A Crime -- Small Town Bans Apparel To Fight Gangs
HARVARD, Ill. - A 15-year-old boy found out this one-cow town was serious about fighting gangs when police arrested him for wearing what they considered a gang symbol: a small Star of David dangling from a necklace.
Harvard, a former farm town 90 miles northwest of Chicago, doesn't have a gang problem, doesn't want a gang problem and has a two-year-old city ordinance to make sure it never gets a gang problem.
But some attorneys say the sweeping statute, which among other things says it is illegal "to wear known gang colors, emblems or other gang insignia," is unlawful.
"We applaud the city for taking a stance," says attorney Charles Weech, who has challenged the measure on behalf of the teenager. "But it must be within the bounds of the Constitution."
It is hard to assess the actual threat that gangs pose to Harvard, population 6,000.
Police say that 35 town youngsters are gang members and that Harvard's county, McHenry, has seen a jump in gang activity over the past decade.
Still small-town atmosphere
But Harvard maintains a distinctly small-town, it-can't-happen-here character. Residents still use town mascot Harmilda - a brown-and-white cow statue symbolic of Harvard's dairy town roots - as a road reference for strangers.
Youngsters in town acknowledge there are drugs - mostly marijuana - at the high school and shrug when asked about gang problems.
Schools lecture them about the misdemeanor ordinance, which
carries a maximum fine of up to $500. And for the most part they don't seem to mind complying.
"They warn you in the beginning of the year," said Rhonda Jurinak, a 15-year-old freshman whose green hair streaks matched her army fatigues. "It doesn't really bother me. I dress the way I want."
Police are taught gang tactics, hand signals, even certain color combinations, such as black and blue and black and gold, that are associated with big city gangs.
"Every judge is guilty every day with his blue shirt and black robe," Weech joked.
But Mayor William LeFew said 14 arrests were made last year for violating the ordinance. "In 1994 we had 24 kids call to say, `We want to get out of gangs,' " he said.
Les Lunsmann, supervisor of the county's police gang unit, agrees the program is working.
"Harvard is unique in the state of Illinois because they grabbed the bull by the horns," he said. "You see no graffiti, no gang members or gang colors. It's a lot more wholesome environment than a couple of years ago."
Arrested on way from school
The 15-year-old boy, who wasn't identified because he's a juvenile, was arrested last year as he was walking home from school. One of the town's 13 officers spotted the Star of David, a symbol of Judaism that crime experts say can be a gang insignia.
The police officer questioned the boy, who is not Jewish, then took him to the station where he was charged.
Another male, Ricardo Rodriguez, was arrested for wearing a black-and-gold University of Colorado Buffalos hat and matching shirt and pants - even though black and gold are Harvard High School's colors.
"This law is not just unconstitutional but is stupid," said attorney Daniel Hofmann, who represents Rodriguez.
Hofmann worries that a small but growing Hispanic population (about 14 percent of the town) may be bearing the brunt of the ordinance - a charge town officials deny.
LeFew said he doesn't worry that the ordinance could violate free-speech rights, citing an incident involving a six-pointed star that occurred after the 15-year-old boy was arrested.
"Two weeks later we stopped somebody with a Star of David," he said. "It was for religious reasons and he was let go. That was fine."
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