Chicago city sticker may depict street gang signs

February 8, 2012

Alex Keefe and The Associated Press

Chicago's city clerk may delay the printing of more than one million city vehicle stickers, as she investigates whether their design may contain gang symbols.

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 is now consulting outside gang experts and the Chicago Police Department before it goes ahead with the printing next week, Williams said.

"With a city sticker that honors Chicago's heroes and first responders, obviously [Mendoza is] sensitive to the concerns that people have," Williams said. "And, again, we just need to gather the facts before we make decisions."

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.

A spokeswoman for Lawrence Hall Youth Services, a school for at-risk youth where the artist is a freshman, said she's 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 are scheduled to be printed in the next week, and they must be on cars by July 15.