Under the category of "no good deed goes unpunished," the City of Chicago has allowed high school students to submit designs for the City's annual revenue-producing vehicle sticker. For this year's sticker, following a round of judging at the City Clerk's Office and a round of voting with 18,000 votes cast at suntimes.com, a winner was chosen. Unfortunately (or not, depending on how you look at it), this year's "winner" has apparently now been disqualified.
According to the Chicago Tribune, the boy's artwork shows four hands reaching upward toward symbols of Chicago police, firefighters and paramedics. City Clerk Susana Mendoza made the decision to change the design from the winning design to the first runner-up. Mendoza said the position of the hands on the design "could be misinterpreted" as gang signs.
Mendoza, in her announcement, said no decision has been made on whether the 15-year-old boy who was the initial winner will be asked to return the $1,000 bond he won. Ok, the politicians and our civic leaders have now decided that our vehicles should not bear a sticker that might have a design that could be misinterpreted as containing gang signs. That's a pretty bold and definitive stance, isn't it? Even so, the story only gets weirder.
According to the Tribune, "Hours earlier, the boy's mother fought back tears as she denied the allegations. Since they became public Tuesday, the boy has suffered anxiety attacks and couldn't sleep last night, according to his mother and their lawyer.
THEY HIRED A LAWYER? For what? Radio reports indicated that the boy attends an alternative school and the Tribune confirms this by identifying his school as Lawrence Hall Youth Services, a well-known institution for troubled teens. So? Do you need a lawyer if you go to school there and the City Clerk decides that your design for a city vehicle sticker "may" depict gang signs? It can't be because he was identified as the winner of the contest and his name was used by some of the publications, could it? Was the lawyer hired for the offers that were going to come pouring in?
Then, the boy's mother gets into the act and opens her mouth. At the school, in front of a large crowd of reporters, Jessica Loor, the designer's mother said, ""I feel there's a lot of haters. They can make anything out of anything." Huh? Haters? Making anything out of anything? Oh yeah, you're right Mom, because people are critical of the design, they must be haters who shouldn't be able to make "anything out of anything."
Personally, I find it fascinating when people call other people "haters." It's the 21st century way of diminishing someone's opinion by dismissing that person as simply having an axe to grind, having no basis for the thought in their head, and simply disliking something or someone for the sake of disliking. Hey Jessica, that's a good thing to teach your son: If you run into trouble or don't get your way, just blame it on the "haters" and don't take responsibility.
But wait, we had to hear from the lawyer too. Blake Horwitz, "representing the family" according to the Tribune (the whole family needs representation now?), demanded an apology from former Chicago Police Superintendent and now Chairman of the Chicago Crime Commission Jody Weis who said that the drawing appeared consistent with gang signs and that the configuration of the hands, the heart and the placing of the hands atop the heart are all consistent with symbols of a particular gang. What did Horwitz, the family counsel, say then? He didn't call Weis a hater, but he did say it was a bunch of nonsense and then identified the designer as a "special needs" child who is on the honor roll. Does a "special needs" child have the right to depict gang signs (if they are such) on a winning design for the City of Chicago's vehicle sticker? Perhaps Mr. Horwitz was hired to preserve the $1,000 savings bond prize.
More weirdness: Why doesn't the City just generate a plain, black and white vehicle sticker to a) save money; and b) avoid problems like this? Why hasn't our mayor spoken up? His signature is on the sticker.
Why does the Sun-Times identify the designer and the Tribune doesn't? The Sun-Times reports that "A picture that was on [Herbie] Pulgar’s Facebook until Tuesday night showed youths making what appeared to be the “pitchfork” hand sign of the Maniac Latin Disciples, which Pulgar allegedly recreated on the sticker design. One commenter on the Facebook picture wrote “what r u doing throwing up the fork ha what are u a gangbanger.”
Why does the City equivocate on the design? There are plenty of websites to go to where you can see how the hands and other parts of the design can easily be construed to be signs of the MLD's. On the other hand, the boy's art teacher says she gave him the design and, when reviewed, he appears to have copied those hands from the teacher's example.
The City has a mess on its hands and City Clerk Mendoza is apparently trying to clean it up. However, it may be one of those controversies where the more steps you take to get it right, the worse it gets. Or, maybe she is on the path to ending this contest and moving toward a standard vehicle sticker. Or, maybe she's just a hater.