Boy Who Drew Controversial Sticker: ‘This Picture Is Clean’

UPDATED 02/08/12 – 9:26 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — City Clerk Susana Mendoza has decided to do away with a controversial design that won the contest to be the next city vehicle sticker, amid fears it could be seen as depicting gang signs, but the 15-year-old boy who drew it insists his drawing “is clean.”

Just days before the City of Chicago was planning to print 1.2 million newly-designed city stickers, allegations had surfaced that the picture on the stickers actually pays respect to a street gang.

The winning design, drawn by Lawrence Hall Youth Services alternative high school student Herbert Pulgar, features an image of the Chicago skyline and flag inside a heart, with four hands reaching up toward symbols of Chicago police officers, firefighters and paramedics.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports

The design generated controversy in recent days after a number of police blogs claimed the design displayed gang signs and other symbols of the Maniac Latin Disciples street gang.

But, as CBS 2’s Kristyn Hartman reports, Pulgar vehemently denied the images on his design were in any way gang-related.

“That’s not true … not true at all. I’m trying to show love to our first responders,” Pulgar said. “This picture is clean.”

Pulgar said his inspiration to honor first responders came from an incident when he was 4 years old.

“I was burnt from my stomach all the way up to my belly button, and they saved my life,” he said.

However, as CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine reports, due to the controversy over the drawing, Mendoza said the city would print stickers with a design drawn by the runner up in the contest, Caitlin Henehan, a senior at Resurrection High School. Henehan’s design is titled “Chicago’s Heroes” and has an image of a Chicago police officer, firefighter and paramedic, all dressed as stylized comic book superheroes, flying in front of the Chicago skyline.

new city sticker 0208 Boy Who Drew Controversial Sticker: This Picture Is Clean

City Clerk Susana Mendoza decided to use this image as the 2012-2013 city sticker after the original contest winner's design sparked a controversy over purported gang symbols in its design. This new design, drawn by Resurrection High School senior Caitlin Henehan, shows a police officer, firefighter and paramedic drawn as comic book superheroes. (Credit: CBS)

Mendoza said her office conducted an investigation and gang experts in the Police Department and at the Chicago Crime Commission said Pulgar’s design could be interpreted as displaying gang signs, whether that was his intention or not.

“I cannot ask Chicagoans to put a sticker on their car that experts believe may be misconstrued as containing gang symbols,” Mendoza said at a City Hall news conference. “Based on these conversations with gang experts and the totality of the information, I made the decision to change the 2012-2013 city vehicle sticker design and use the design of the first runner-up.”

Mendoza said, between the advice from gang experts and the effects of news coverage and social media discussion of Pulgar’s design, there’s a perception his design could promote gangs, so she has no choice but to do away with Pulgar’s design and go with Henehan’s sticker instead.

Former Police Supt. Jody Weis, now president of the Chicago Crime Commission, applauded Mendoza’s decision to do away with the controversial sticker design.

“It’s actually kind of a sad day, because you had a theme that was beautiful; recognizing first responders. And, unfortunately, we had to make another choice.”

Weis said the image of the fingers on the hands on Pulgar’s design is “not dissimilar to the gang signs for a particular gang.” He also said the heart is the main symbol of the gang.

Although Weis did not mention the gang by its name, several police blogs have said the purported gang signs are symbols of the Maniac Latin Disciples.

Weis said, even if Pulgar didn’t intend to draw anything that looked like a gang symbol, perception can sometimes trump intent.

“If you and I can perhaps interpret that as a particular hand sign to a particular gang, then that’s probably not a good thing and we don’t need to have thousands of vehicles, including police vehicles, driving around with a sticker that could be interpreted as being somewhat reflective of a particular gang,” Weis said.

Mendoza said she feels terrible for Pulgar, calling the decision heart-breaking.

“Anybody who has a heart and anyone who’s met this young man cannot be anything but completely affected by having to make this decision,” Mendoza said.

Mendoza’s decision was a bitter pill to swallow for Pulgar and his mother, Jessica Loor.

“I’m very upset. They’ve been bashing my son for the last 24 hours. He’s only fifteen years old. I’m scared for his safety now,” she said. “I’m just very disappointed on how they’ve took this and just blew it up.”

Pulgar has said the drawing was a tribute to first-responders who once saved his life.

But Jose Rodriguez – who has lost a cousin and friends to gang violence – said he knows gang signs when he sees them.

“I wouldn’t buy this sticker for anything. I wouldn’t even put it on there for free, because I lost friends to this gang,” Rodriguez said.

Placing the sticker and a gang sign side by side, he explained.

“Clearly all four hands on top are throwing out the pitchfork,” he said.

But Loor insisted, “The hands are the helping hands of Chicago and no way, form, does anything in that picture have anything to do with gang affiliation.”

At Pulgar’s school, his art teacher, Janice Gould, said he modeled the hands after a sketch she gave him.

She said the hands, and the shape of the hands, and the configuration of the hands are straight out of her manual. Indeed, the hands on the sticker appear almost identical to a hand pictured in the art book “Teaching Children How To Succeed.”

sticker and book Boy Who Drew Controversial Sticker: This Picture Is Clean

The hands depicted on Herbert Pulgar's design for Chicago city vehicle stickers appear almost identical to those in an art book supplied by his teacher, although some critics have said the hands are flashing gang symbols. (Credit: CBS)

Pulgar said it was especially upsetting that police officers would say on police blogs that he was trying to promote a street gang.

“How can they say that I’m representing a gang member? How dare they say that I’m doing that if I’m really representing them? Get that through their head that I’m representing them, not no gang,” Pulgar said.

Pulgar did acknowledge that his Facebook page, which has since been made private, had pictures of him flashing gang signs, but he said that was a “stupid” mistake from his past. He admitted he’s been in trouble before, but claimed working to win the contest was his way of trying to turn his life around.

“That’s why I entered this contest, that’s why I’m doing this, to turn myself around … from that negative that I was doing, you know what I mean?” he said. “What they saw on Facebook was me doing stupid stuff as a kid. … That’s at the time when my mom told me I have to change and I have to start doing better for myself.”

Even though his drawing will no longer be the image on city vehicle stickers, Pulgar said he’s still proud he won the competition and got to meet Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

“I was proud of my work and I’d never been in the mayor’s office or I never, ever met the mayor and I was proud to give my mayor my artwork,” Pulgar said.

Pulgar said he wishes Mendoza would reconsider.

“Ms. Mendoza is a nice lady, she’s a good lady, but she should be civilized. She should have been a civilized person and talked to me and my mom and we could have changed the hands … put something else on there. … Peace signs, you know, whatever,” Pulgar said.

Caitlin Henehan, the girl whose design will be used instead, said she thinks Pulgar deserved to win, but said his design was controversial.

Pulgar said he wouldn’t let the controversy stop him from trying to win the contest again next year.

“I’m still Herbert the artist to me and I’m always gonna be Herbert the artist,” Pulgar said. “Definitely, I will by trying out next year and either they like it or not. I’ll probably win, too.”

Mendoza said no stickers had been printed yet, so the change would not cost taxpayers any additional money.

Some police blogs also claimed Pulgar is a Maniac Latin Disciples gang member.

Pulgar’s mother denies it, WBBM Newsradio’s Mike Krauser reports

“He never has been in a gang; I am totally against gangs,” Loor said. “It blows my mind how people can be so mean and cruel.”

Pulgar’s art teacher said she gave her student a handout to use to create the artwork and he copied images of hands that were in that manual.

“No gang signs are permitted. Period,” Janice Gould said. “I gave him the material to reference.”

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Mike Krauser Reports

Two men at the White Palace Grill said Wednesday that the issue has been blown out of proportion.

“If you look at, like, the Blackhawks symbol, it has a pitchfork in it, and it’s just supposed to be a wrinkle in (Chief Black Hawk’s) forehead,” said Kevin McDermott of Chicago. “It probably was an unintentional drawing that people are just turning into a different thing. There’s a lot of sports symbols that you can change into gang signs.”

“It’s nothing intentional. Like he was saying, I mean, there’s multiple things in our culture now that has that symbol out there, and it’s not meaning it’s gang-affiliated, or anything like that,” added John Spencer of Chicago.

For his winning design, Pulgar received a $1,000 savings bond that will go toward his continuing education.

  • Afro

    Chicago needs to have nothing but a plain Jane boring one solid color emblem, this is a government mandate by the city so leave the public out of its design. The whole thing is a big rip off by the City any ways, and probably isn’t even legal.

    • the rapture

      agree – ditch the stupid contest – this year’s sticker should be solid color – no controversy – no gang meanings nothing…

      • The Right Friends

        are you a SOCIALIST???

  • da chicago way

    ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha,what a bunch of clowns the city is!

  • Just Axin

    This is perfect as Forbes just listed Chgo as being one of the most miserable cities to live in.

  • Wilber

    They can get 18,000 people to vote on this sticker but 18,000 people don’t have the baIIs to say shove this unfair tax up your ass. City folks is just dumb LMAO

    • john

      City folks are just dumb*
      Try to at least use correct grammar when making ridiculous generalizations. Now go back to husking corn or smoking meth.

  • whatajoke

    Last summer, Police Supt. Garry McCarthy vowed to destroy the Maniac Latin Disciples gang, after a member opened fire in Avondale Park on the city’s Northwest Side in June and wounded two young girls, ages 2 and 7.

    This comment right here is so sad. South Side people drop on a daily basis and because a latin gang shot in Avondale Park he wants to destroy the maniacs. Why not destroy all gangs? Is it because they are a latin gang? What about all other gangs of all other races? This should be a fight against all gangs not just a latin gang. You don’t want to take action against black gangs because it’s racist? What a joke! I am not saying this because it’s a latin gang being attacked but it should be all gangs! The comment makes him seem racist and against latinos!

    • Donald

      He’s afraid of the Black Gangs….him and me both.

  • Border Agent69

    Check the kids FACEBOOK page.

  • tony

    who is our city clerk.mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm

  • Jaz

    was the mayor blind when he presented the winner with the award?

  • Gloria Gomez


    why don’t they have the young artist of the sticker just modify the hands so as not to offend any interpretations, and let him keep the winning prize? My reaction to the hands when first viewed: HELPING HANDS!

  • Marcus

    mendoza made the right choice.

  • Tim


  • D J Remix Rick

    I truly agree with TIM, do away with the hands or have him redraw them.

    • Craig

      Why? Look at the two pictures of the hands above. It’s apparent that his teacher is the one who created or at least drew the design.

  • TD

    Another boondoggle by the great city of Chicago . LMAO This was not handled correctly. They could have met with the boy and his mother, see where his thought was in drawing the hands. If there was no gang relation there, have him change the hand design or remove them. Instead they break a kids heart and hopefully not his spirit.. She met with the Police of course there going to be on the side of caution. What if the hands were in prayer would it then be against the separation of church and state. Mrs Mendoza needs better advisers….

  • Greg Roman

    CITY OF CHICAGO, GET A CLUE! All these years we have to suffer the reports of children victimized by gangs, it makes one sick. Now YOU victimize this child! You should feel as stupid as this decision is. The bangers are all laughing at you because they know better, and this poor child is crying because you can’t figure it out. I know it’s too much to ask for you to have the wisdom of Solomon, but how could you be this dumb?

    • Craig

      Wake the hell up! Why should the city reward a gang banger, a Maniac Latin Disciple, with cash and notoriety. How is this kid a victim? Joining a gang is a choice .

  • Kano

    Do away with the hands or open them up….its that simple ….whether cops or whomever came up with this notion while probaly drinking should be looking into why the city of chicago residents have to pay such a high price for these absurd stickers…..they go up every other year!

  • Heartless


  • Holly Whiteskin

    Give him time OBAMA will have the country in the same shape as ILLINOIS,mainly CROOK COUNTY and CHICAGO,STUPID and BROKE and HEARTLESS.

    • Lyndia

      How did the president get involved in this, whiteskin?

  • LadyTT

    Where in the hell did Weiss come from? Thought this joker was out the picture?
    Why didn’t they just Photoshop the darn picture or have him to do the sketch
    over. This is Crook County!!!

  • Max IMost

    They could have just removed the hands

  • JD

    Um, yeah. Those are def MLD gang signs. I should know. Whether intentional or not, the CPD would be the laughing stock of the streets if this drawing was used. I agree with others though, change the hands; the superhero one just looks stupid.

  • West Side Resident

    There is other evidence, not brought out in this article, but including his tweets, which directly point to affiliation with, and potential gang, membership. His father also has a very colorful past and is listed by Interpol.

    See this link for more details:

  • Sam


  • City Dumps Vehicle Sticker Over Alleged Gang Iconography « CrimeAlertBlog.Com

    […] decision reportedly came after an investigation and consultation with gang experts affiliated with both the Chicago Poli…, according to CBS […]

  • Joe Stanton

    I gave up on your 10:00 news years ago when you started opening with fluff instead of real news. Now I watch it occasionally, if the news is delayed on 5 or 7. I caught your 4:00 AM report this morning. Channel 5 & 7 have a sound effects occasionally between scenes as do you, but their volume is subdued while yours is loud and annoying. Why do you even think you need the noise?

  • CFLC

    The city sticker should reflect the city’s true colors. I think a picture of red light/speeding cameras would be approprite, with the saying “Welcome to Chicago, if the gas prices don’t get you the cameras will”

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