Thursday, February 09, 2012

A Sticker Situation

There's been a big uproar the last few days over what were to be Chicago's new city vehicle stickers. The theme for this year's design is "Chicago's Heroes" and young people from the city were encouraged last year to submit artwork that honors the city's first responders; firefighters, cops, EMTs.

A 15 year old kid named Herbert Pulgar won the contest to design, and it was announced last Thursday that Herbert had won $1000 savings bond after more than 18,000 people voted for his design in December.

As soon as the winning artwork was unveiled, the blog "Detective Shaved Longcock", a popular spot for Chicago cops to post, raised some concern over the design. According to the folks at Shaved, little Herbert's design was a hidden tribute to one of Chicago's more notorious street gangs, the Maniac Latin Disciples. (It's been somewhat humorous to watch the local media try to explain the name of the blog which first raised the possibility that Herbert's design was coded gang-speak.)

As a sometimes reader of Detective Shaved Longcock, and a guy who has frequent interaction with Chicago's police (for business reasons) I can say that there are certain racist elements to DSL as well as the police force in general. Some who comment to posts use words like nigger and spick, and the blog itself has some posts up that can only be described as racial, if not flat-out racist. It's not unusual for members of the force to categorize the city by neighborhoods, and the predominant race of the people who live in those neighborhoods. It's also a common practice for the cops to label certain neighborhoods as controlled by this gang or that gang. A turf thing. If you ask the cops why they speak in such generalities they look at you as if you are completely detached from the reality of Chicago.

Gangs. We has 'em.

Anyway, back to little Herbert's design. It's a heart comprised of Chicago's blue and white striped flag, the red stars, and a view of the city's skyline. Reaching skyward from the heart are four hands of different colors, and above them are the hats of Chicago police, Chicago firefighters, and the paramedic symbol.

According to Herbert, it was those people who saved his life when he was rescued from a fire at 4 years old.

According to Shaved Longcock, he's the son of a known gangster, and Herbert himself has had something of a troubled youth. They point to the hand gestures in Herbert's drawing and claim that it's the "pitchfork" sign (thumb/index/middle finger) that gets flashed on MLD turf. (No word if they think Herbert's depiction of the Hancock Building is really flipping us all the bird.) The heart and pitchfork logo is often a tag used by the gang to announce their turf to rivals who wonder about boundaries. Posted at the blog are pictures of Herbert sporting a red bandana around his face, a MLD trademark, and another picture of him exhaling a smoky mouthful of something as he squints at the camera.

I'm not sure exactly who makes decisions on this sort of shit, but City Clerk Sharon Mendoza, who initially called Herbert a "rock star" when his artwork was selected as the winner (by a panel of people which included 10 Chicago cops), has now backpedaled. The City Clerk's office issued a statement saying that Mendoza was shocked to hear the "rumor" floated at Detective Shaved Longcock about Herbert's drawing carrying a hidden gang message, and launched an investigation.

It was announced this morning that Herbert Pulgar's winning design has been pulled as the new city vehicle sticker, and the submission made by Caitlin Henehan, a senior from Resurrection High School has taken its place. Caitlin's design is sort of a super-hero thing that shows...well, here,...

Herbert Pulgar was interviewed by Chicago's ABC7 after Mendoza's decision was announced and he was understandably upset. He cried his ass off, and explained that his artwork was about peace and love and Chicago's finest first responders, and has nothing to do with gangs.

The cops at Shaved Longcock are equally happy with the selection of Caitlin's work, and see it as a big improvement over something drawn by a brown kid who may or may not be affiliated with the Maniac Latin Disciples. Nice white Catholic girl beats a Hispanic punk every time with the cops here.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has kept pretty mum on the issue, but that won't last long. Rahm's got pretty strong opinions about offensive hand gestures.

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