“Everyone knows him because of his glasses. He’s the kid.”
Campaign volunteer Ava Gal gestured to William “The Kid” Guerrero, the 21-year-old artist running for a council seat in the 12th Chicago Police District. It was 6 PM on a Friday night in early February, and Guerrero’s supporters waited for guests to arrive at his fundraising party at Alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez’s office. Once an accessory to an old Halloween costume, Guerrero’s thick, lensless frames now serve as both the focal point of his face and a political message. On the left side they’re painted white, with the words, “We are the Future” sprawling across the temples. Untouched, the right is black.
A Pilsen native, Guerrero is the youngest person running for a Chicago Police District Council seat. The council is the product of a two-pronged city ordinance passed in July 2021. Centered on police oversight, accountability, and public safety, the initiative created two new bodies, the District Councils and the Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability. Each of the city’s 22 police districts will house councils comprising of three people elected in regular municipal elections every four years. This February, Chicagoans can vote for the very first District Council representatives.
Even with Pilsen’s population of 80,011, Gal says Guerrero has been a familiar face for years—around coffee shops, streets, and community events. When she saw that he was running for the 12th Police District Council in October, she reached out to him over Instagram. Now, months later, the Westinghouse College Prep senior volunteers for his campaign, trading Friday nights with friends for Guerrero’s fundraising party.
“Public safety is a really big topic right now, but there are so many different opinions and outlooks, that you never really know what’s going to happen,” Gal says. “We’ll go down to Ukrainian Village, and there’ll be an old man with no shoes on yelling about property taxes, and then other places, we’ll have people who are super open and thankful to have these conversations.”
Guerrero believes that Gen Z can help bridge this ideological divide. He says that police misconduct and brutality have poisoned the city, stewing bitterness and distrust among Chicagoans. Finding no alleviation to these problems in the current system, Guerrero sees infinite potential in youth voices. Although Chicago just witnessed its lowest voter turnout (46 percent) for a midterm election in the past 80 years, turnout for youth voters appears hopeful. In the 2018 midterm elections and for Illinois governor, youth voter turnout reached 40 percent. On a national level, 27 percent of young people, ages 18 to 29, turned out to vote in the 2022 midterm election—the second highest youth turnout rate for a midterm election in the past 30 years.
Not only do young people have the innovation to create non policing alternatives, but also they have the bandwidth to, as he puts it, “reeducate people in order to pursue peace.”
Though youth often comes with inexperience, Guerrero’s resume boasts local, community centered political experience. After a semester studying photography at Robert Morris University Illinois (prior to its 2020 merger with Roosevelt University), he dropped out and campaigned for Jon Ossoff in Georgia, seeking to boost Latinx civic engagement. In the city, he spends time studying up on the dark money problem. He also spearheads and photographs community events, such as Mural Movement. Moreover, he grew up in a single parent household, serving as a role model for his three younger siblings—the importance of strong leadership has “surrounded [him] from a very young age.” But Guerrero says his premature foray into municipal politics is not a choice.
“If you’re part of the older generation, you’re responsible for making me run. I shouldn’t have to,” he says. “I’d rather be in college, having fun, partying, but I can’t. I have everything to lose because of the older generation.”
William Guerrero speaks at a recent community meeting. Credit: Paul Goyette
Trailing behind the renewed Black Lives Matter movement of 2020, the city’s new Police District Councils are no coincidence. Communities of color often bear the burden of fatal police violence and brutality, with Black and Latinx Americans three times more likely to be killed by police than white Americans. If elected, Guerrero seeks to sever the vicious cycle of police brutality and back door deals that have affected him and his community. He is an advocate of Treatment not Trauma, a model for public mental health infrastructure that includes city-run mental health centers and a 24-hour crisis response hotline that dispatches mental health workers instead of police officers. According to Collaborative Community for Wellness, the risk of being killed by police is 16 times greater for individuals with untreated mental illness than for other residents. With a platform focused on de-escalation, Guerrero hopes to “bring humanity” to the table.
Guerrero has secured multiple endorsements for his campaign, including that of Alderman Sigcho-Lopez of the 25th Ward, who lent Guerrero his office space for a recent fundraising party.
“We need to empower young people because they’re the ones who are affected by police brutality,” Sigcho-Lopez tells the Reader over the phone. “[Guerrero] is well-qualified because he’s active, present, and listens to the youth—he is learning, empowering, and creating more spaces.”
At the fundraiser on February 3, both Gal and Guerrero wrestled with Guerrero’s pit bull terrier Harley, mustering feeble attempts to keep her attached to her leash. She’s a former fighter dog and rescue that Guerrero adopted a month ago to keep him company.
As he slipped Harley a slice of pizza, Guerrero explained that his young age shouldn’t scare off voters.
“Yeah, I might not have been here when all these politicians were corrupting Pilsen for the past 20-some years,” he quipped, “But I’m here now.”
More on the Chicago police district councils
The councils are the first to be elected to police oversight bodies.
Saul Arellano, Anthony Michael Tamez, Ashley Vargas, and William “The Kid” Guerrero are among the youngest candidates for Police District Councils.
Police district councils and the Community Commission on Public Safety and Accountability have broad oversight of the police department.