JOHN BYRNE AND JEREMY GORNER, CHICAGO TRIBUNE | LINK TO ARTICLE
A 15-year-old boy will lose the honor of seeing his city sticker design adorn Chicago windshields amid questions about whether the artwork contains gang symbols, City Clerk Susana Mendoza said this afternoon.
At a City Hall news conference, Mendoza said she made the decision to change the design.
The boy's artwork shows four hands reaching upward toward symbols of Chicago police, firefighters and paramedics. But Mendoza said the position of the hands "could be misinterpreted" as gang signs.
The city instead will use a design by Caitlin Henehan, a senior at Resurrection High School and the first runner-up in the city's contest. It depicts a firefighter, police officer and paramedic as super heroes.
Mendoza said it would not have been fair to allow the boy to redesign his sticker art to change the position of the hands because other entrants would not have gotten the same chance. She said no decision has been made on whether the 15-year-old boy will be asked to return the $1,000 bond he won.
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.
"I am very upset. I feel very upset that something so positive could be so negative," Jessica Loor told reporters crammed inside a classroom at Lawrence Hall Youth Services, where the boy attends school. "I feel there's a lot of haters. They can make anything out of anything."
After a popular police blog raised questions about the artwork, the city clerk's office decided to consult with gang experts to see whether the city should stick with the winning entry. The office prints the city stickers and sponsors a contest among students to draw the winning design.
Attorney Blake Horwitz, who is representing the family, demanded an apology from Jody Weis, the former Chicago police superintendent and now president of the Chicago Crime Commission, who said Tuesday that the hands in the drawing seemed consistent with gang signs.
"Now this is a bunch of nonsense being blown way out of proportion," said Horwitz, describing the boy as a "special needs" child who is on the honor roll.
The boy won the annual contest, in which hundreds of Chicago high school students submit drawing to become the basis of the stickers that get displayed for a year on more than one million auto windshields in Chicago.
Weis, a former police superintendent who is now president of the Chicago Crime Commission that puts out a handbook on city gangs, said he initially saw the imagery on a Blackberry and didn't think it looked like a gang sign. But a short time later, when he blew up the picture on an iPad, he could see it much clearer and he changed his mind.
On Wednesday, Weis said 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.
The new city sticker was picked after a round of judging and another round of voting. In the first round, judges invited by the clerk’s office crowd into City Council chambers and rank their favorites from among hundreds of designs submitted by high school students.
The top 10 then were posted at suntimes.com, and Mendoza said more than 18,000 votes were cast. The winning design was announced last week at a news conference.
The teen said his mother and his school, Lawrence Hall Youth Services, were helping him improve his academic performance. He said he was honoring firefighters because they rescued him when he was 4 and had lit his clothes on fire with a candle.
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