A Chicago high school student's winning entry into the city's vehicle sticker design contest, which was set to go to print this week, is now under investigation for allegedly depicting gang signs.
The rumor that the artwork -- which shows four hands held up in the air above a heart, a city skyline and symbols representing firefighters, police officers and paramedics -- was actually a tribute to the Maniac Latin Disciples, one of Chicago's most notorious gangs, spread Tuesday via a blog frequently read by Chicago police, the Chicago Sun-Times reports.
The allegations have launched an investigation by City Clerk Susana Mendoza who said she was "shocked" by the news.
"Every artist has a back story and oftentimes artwork is controversial," Mendoza said in a statement, as reported by the Chicago Tribune. "However, the artwork on Chicago's city stickers should not be controversial.
"In a design that is meant to honor the city's first responders, I am very sensitive to this issue," she continued. "I grew up in a neighborhood filled with crime and gang violence, and I come from a law enforcement family."
Late last year, Herbert Pulgar's design was chosen by some 18,000 Chicagoans that voted in the contest, ABC Chicago reports. The boy attends Lawrence Hall Youth Services, a school geared toward troubled youth.
In an interview in December, Pulgar, who also won a $1,000 savings bond in the contest, told CBS Chicago that he was inspired to dedicate his design to first responders after they "saved his life" when he was badly burned during a fire at the age of 4.
Weighing in on the matter, Jody Weis, former Chicago Police Department Superintendent and current president of the Chicago Crime Commission, a group that releases a city gang handbook, told the Tribune that the hands in the sticker design do, indeed, appear to be flashing gang signs.
A former gang member and graffiti artist who spoke with The Expired Meter anonymously said he, too, noticed a disturbing number of gang signs in Pulgar's design.
"The D's use a lot of red and black colors and there are forks going up inside of a heart, another symbol they use. And in the photo (at the awards ceremony) he's wearing red -- the gang’s main color," the ex-gang member explained.
Meanwhile, Jill Watson, a spokeswoman for Pulgar's school, told the Sun-Times that 10 police officers sat on the committee that identified the boy's work as one of 10 finalists in the contest. The voters, she said "recognized his talent and his beautiful artwork and it changed his life. … The sticker isn’t gang-related -- it's a beautiful piece of art."
The sticker will be the first issued under Mayor Rahm Emanuel's tenure, featuring both his and Mendoza's names.
Last summer, Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy announced that, on the heels of a member of the gang's alleged involvement in the shooting of two young girls on the city's Northwest Side, his department would devote its "entire resource" to "going after the Maniac Latin Disciples."