Chicago City Clerk yanks vehicle sticker due to alleged gang signs

February 8, 2012

Chicago's City Clerk said Wednesday afternoon she will be using a new design for the next round of city vehicle stickers. Susana Mendoza says the original design drawn by a 15-year-old could include gang symbols.

"The experts have felt that yes indeed it could potentially be perceived as symbollizing gang relations and, frankly, I, as clerk, cannot ask Chicagoans to put a sticker on their car  if there's even remotely the possibility of that being misinterpreted."

The stickers were supposed to be printed next week. Meantime, a spokeswoman for the special needs school where the artist is a freshman says she doesn't see gang symbols in the artwork.

City Clerk Susana Mendoza's office made the announcement following posts on two police blogs that point out similarities between the sticker design and the symbol for the Maniac Latin Disciples, a street gang on Chicago's North Side.

The design, which was meant to honor Chicago emergency workers, features a sketch of the city's skyline tucked into a heart shape, with four hands reaching upward toward a police cap, a firefighter helmet and an EMT symbol. It was drawn by a teenager who attends a special needs school in the city, and it beat out about 300 other entries in a city-wide art contest. The winning design was to appear on about 1.3 million vehicle stickers, said Kristine Williams, a spokeswoman for the clerk.

But following questions from reporters that were spurred by the two blog posts, the clerk's office consulted outside gang experts and the Chicago Police Department before it goes ahead with the printing next week, Williams said.

Adding to the flap over the sticker design are pictures that were posted on the two blogs. The photos, purportedly from the teenaged artist's Facebook page, show people forming what appear to be gang hand signs.

Before Mendoza's announcement Wednesday afternoon, a spokeswoman for Lawrence Hall Youth Services, a school for at-risk youth where the artist is a freshman, said she was unaware of whether the boy is in a gang.

"What I do know is that kids all over Chicago and all over the country make stupid choices and put up items on Facebook that may or may not be appropriate," said spokeswoman Jill Watson.

The clerk's office suggested it could choose one of the other top-rated student designs for the sticker if it decides against using the one in question. But Watson said that would disappoint the school - and the student artist.

"He's said, 'I love Chicago. I love our first responders.' I mean, we don't see any imagery in that piece of artwork," Watson said. "What we see is a beautiful piece of artwork created by a special kid."

The city has never had a problem with the vehicle sticker designs during the 17 years it has been running student art contests, said Williams.

The 2012 vehicle stickers had been scheduled to be printed in the next week, and they must be on cars by July 15.