The city of Chicago axed the winning design for its 2012-13 vehicle registration sticker Wednesday amid concerns that it may depict street gang signs.
The sticker was designed by a 15-year-old boy who attends a school for troubled youth. It includes the city's skyline inside a heart, with hands pointing toward a police hat, firefighter helmet and paramedic symbol.
At the time his design was chosen, Herbert Pulgar said it was meant to honor city firefighters, paramedics and police. The boy's mother, Jessica Loor, said Wednesday that her son is not in a gang.
"The sticker has nothing wrong with it. ... It has no gang affiliation at all," Loor said at a news conference at Lawrence Hall Youth Services, where her son attends high school. "I am very upset. I feel very upset that something so positive could be so negative."
Jody Weis, the former Chicago police superintendent and now president of the Chicago Crime Commission, was among those raising concerns about the sticker. The Maniac Latin Disciples, a prominent gang in the city, uses a heart as a symbol, and some believed the hands depicted a gang sign.
Chicago, the nation's third-largest city, requires residents with vehicles to buy the stickers and place them on the inside of their windshields. The city sells about 1.2 million stickers each year.
"I cannot ask drivers to put a sticker on their cars that may be misconstrued as containing gang symbols," City Clerk Susana Mendoza said in announcing her decision not to use the design.
The city instead will use a design by Caitlin Henehan, a senior at Resurrection High School and the runner-up in the city's contest to come with art for the vehicle sticker, Mendoza said. That art depicts a firefighter, police officer and paramedic as super heroes.
Mendoza said it would be unfair to allow Pulgar to redesign his sticker art because other entrants would not have gotten the same chance.
Pulgar won a $1,000 savings bond with his winning design. Mendoza said no decision has been made on whether he loses the award.
Attorney Blake Horwitz, who represents Loor and her son, demanded an apology from Weis. "Now this is a bunch of nonsense being blown way out of proportion," Horwitz said.
Pulgar's art teacher, Janice Gould, said the hands were copied from a handout she'd provided the boy. She said she recognizes gang symbols after decades of working with troubled inner city youth and that there are none in Pulgar's work.
Weis on Wednesday reiterated his belief 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.
"If you look at all of that, you're fighting a battle of perception, not intent, because we'll never know what was in this young man's heart," he said.