City clerk investigates: Does city sticker have gang signs?
BY KIM JANSSEN Staff Reporterfirstname.lastname@example.org February 7, 2012 7:12PM
The controversial 2012-13 sticker design that some feared had hidden Maniac Latin Disciples symbols inside. File.
Updated: March 9, 2012 8:20AM
City Clerk Susana Mendoza is investigating claims that the city’s 2012-13 vehicle sticker — intended for every Chicagoan’s windshield — includes symbols honoring the gang that Police Supt. Garry McCarthy vowed to destroy.
The city sticker design, which includes the city’s skyline inside a heart, with hands pointing up towards a police hat, fire department helmet and paramedic symbol, was advertised as honoring Chicago’s emergency responders.
But allegations surfaced online Tuesday on a blog popular with Chicago police officers that it in fact pays respect to the Maniac Latin Disciples, the street gang that McCarthy made public enemy No. 1 after the shooting of little girls in June.
The heart is a symbol of the MLD’s, and it is alleged on the blog that the hands on the sticker are making the “pitchfork” hand symbol MLD gang members use to identify themselves. Herbert Pulgar, the 15-year-old Lawrence Hall Youth Services student who designed the sticker, has photos of youths throwing the sign on his Facebook page, and of himself in a red bandana.
The Facebook page, which also features a photo of Pulgar posing with the winning sticker design, includes a long section of comments about the photo of youths showing gang signs. One commenter asks: “what u doing throwing up the fork ha what are u a gangbanger.”
Tuesday evening, Mendoza said she was “shocked” at the allegation , which came “just days before we were about to print the stickers.” The city sells about 1.2 million stickers each year.
“We’re looking into it,” she said. “We hope it’s not true.
“We wanted something that would honor first responders and if that is not the case and it is something that disrespects the police, then, clearly, I don’t think that should be rewarded,” Mendoza said.
Pulgar could not be reached for comment Tuesday evening.
Jill Watson, a spokesman for Lawrence Hall Youth Services, which cares for at-risk students, defended the freshman, saying “Somebody recognized his talent and his beautiful artwork and it changed his life,” Watson said. “The sticker isn’t gang-related — it’s a beautiful piece of art.”
Ten police officers were on the committee that selected Pulgar’s work as a finalist, Watson said.
Mendoza said her family left a crime-ridden neighborhood because of the Latin Kings street gang when she was 8. “Hardworking families should not have to move neighborhoods to get away from violence,” she said. “It’s a tragedy.”
Chicago police spokeswoman Melissa Stratton said the department was notified about the controversy. “This matter has been brought to our attention and we are looking into it,” she said.
Former Police Supt. Jody Weis, now the president of the Chicago Crime Commission, which just published a book on Chicago gangs, said he initially thought the controversy was much ado about nothing.
“However, I blew it up on an iPad, and the finger configuration on each hand were consistent with a gang sign,” Weis said. “Coincidence? Not on all four and that [they] were both left and right hands.”
About 18,000 Chicagoans voted for a city sticker design late last year. Pulgar’s was one of several potential sticker designs by Chicago students supplied to the Sun-Times by the city. The Sun-Times published the designs, encouraging people to vote for a winner on the city clerk’s website or in person at the city clerk’s office.
When he won the sticker contest last month, Pulgar praised first-responders. “Those people did a lot of things for me and my family,” a thrilled Pulgar said last month.
He “nearly died” as a boy after he was severely burned when a candle set fire to his clothes, he said at the time. “They’re Chicago’s heroes.”
Pulgar said last month that his mom came up with the idea for the heart and he decided to incorporate the hands after noticing that they were featured in several previous winners. When he found out he won, “I started screaming — I was so happy!” he said. He also won a $1,000 savings bond.
Contributing: Frank Main, Mark Konkol