By Andrew Stern
CHICAGO (Reuters) - A 15-year-old Chicago boy's winning design to appear on the city's next vehicle sticker was scrapped on Wednesday after crime experts declared it may contain gang signs and symbols.
City Clerk Susan Mendoza accepted the advice of gang crime experts who said Herbie Pulgar's drawing of four hands could be interpreted as flashing a gang sign. Other evocative symbols like a heart, possibly with horns, could also be viewed as another gang's symbol.
"I have consulted and relied on the experts within the Chicago Police Department and the Chicago Crime Commission, and they have informed me that there are some symbols in the sticker design that could be misinterpreted as potential gang symbols," Mendoza said.
The runner-up design will be printed on the stickers, which go on the windshields of roughly a million vehicles of car owners living in the city.
Pulgar's mother, Jessica Loor, told reporters through tears he was suffering anxiety as a result of the decision. "He kept saying, 'Mom, I tried to do something positive, and they keep knocking me down.'"
"To suggest these are gang signs is nonsense," said the family's lawyer, Blake Horwitz.
The boy's artwork, which earned him a $1,000 prize and was praised by Mendoza in a news release last year as a "vibrant salute to Chicago's Heroes," was derived from materials provided by his art teacher, Horwitz said.
"He's a young boy who has special needs who was extremely empowered and happy to generate this for the city. Now he feels he's being humiliated and shamed," said Horwitz, adding no decision had yet been made about pursuing legal action.
Jody Weis, formerly Chicago's police superintendent who now heads the Chicago Crime Commission, said close scrutiny of the design revealed what appear to fingers configured in a gang sign and other gang symbols.
"We don't know what the intent was, and it really doesn't matter," he said. "It certainly could be perceived as being gang-related. The city has to be careful, these stickers go on police vehicles."
Weis said the boy's Facebook page contained references to gangs and gang symbols, and had chosen what hand models to depict.
Gangs are held responsible for some 300 murders a year or two-thirds of the city's homicides, Weis said.
"This could send a message that we're glorifying a particular gang," he said.
(Reporting By Andrew Stern; Editing by Daniel Trotta)