The Anti-Gang statute of Harvard, Illinois, which has served as a model for similar statutes in many Chicago suburbs, was recently struck down by an Illinois appellate court. The Harvard law made it a crime to display gang colors and symbols—such displays lead to frequent clashes, violence, and murder. The challenge came from an admitted gang member arrested in March 1993 for wearing a six-pointed star—the symbol of the Gangster Disciples. (In an Illinois high school, a gang member recently protested his suspension on the grounds that his six-pointed star expressed his solidarity with Judaism!) The judges ruled that the proliferation of gang colors and symbols made the application of the law “not merely broad . . . but open-ended and potentially limitless.”
Free speech is at a premium in the United States, but it is hard to see how the display of gang colors is a First Amendment issue. Gangs are, by definition, criminal conspiracies, and it should be easy to distinguish between a student wearing a football jersey and a gangbanger flashing his colors. In a doubtful case, the burden of proof should be on the state, but when the case involves an admitted gang member, as it does in Harvard, then the judges, in ruling to protect the colors, have joined the gang.