For What It’s Worth

That’s unfair, Chicago

People in authority are not always fair in their actions, a lesson a 15-year-old boy in Chicago learned this week.

Through the city clerk’s office, a contest was held to select the design for the next city sticker, which was to honor the city’s first responders—firefighters, medics and police. A 15-year-old boy who attends a school for troubled youth produced the winning design. It had a heart containing a rendering of the city skyline against the city flag. Extending upward from the heart toward symbols of the three first responder groups were four hands.

Hundreds of designs were submitted and, after two rounds of judging by judges invited by the city clerk’s office, the top 10 designs were posted online for voting and more than 18,000 votes were cast. The winner was selected, and preparations were begun to print the new city sticker.

Then, fear, based on an unproven assumption and possible public perception, was born and grew quickly. The president of the Chicago Crime Commission, a former police superintendent, saw the design and decided that the hands were “very close” to being a gang sign. From that he made this unproven assumption, “It’s too close to be a coincidence.” He said he didn’t know what was in the boy’s heart, but somebody needed to find out.

A blogger who writes about police issues also identified the position of the hands as symbols often flashed by members of a notorious Chicago street gang. That prompted some calls to the city clerk’s office. As a result, fear developed that the design would be controversial. City Clerk Susana Mendoza said the city sticker should not be controversial, and a decision was made to nix the chosen design and go with the runner-up design.

However, it appears that this decision was made and the action taken without verifying the assumption that the hands were a gang sign and without contacting the boy to give him an opportunity to redraw the hands to allay the fear. Seems like a lack of fair play and common decency, doesn’t it?

In a TV report on the incident, the boy’s art teacher said he selected the hands from an art book she provided. The boy said in an interview that the hands were not gang symbols, that all he was doing was trying to show support for first responders and make them heroes. A newspaper story said the boy admired firefighters because firefighters rescued him when he was a small boy and accidentally set his clothes on fire.

In the TV report, the boy’s mother said she was heartbroken that the award was taken away based on something that was untrue. Both she and her son said they were not contacted by the city clerk and were not given an opportunity to modify the hands to eliminate the alleged gang sign. The boy said he would have been happy to change the hands.

News reports indicate the boy has a troubled past, though specifics were not given. It is also reported that he is making progress and his work in the contest was cited as an example. His past is not a reason to unfairly judge him, if his past was a factor in making the decision to discard his design.

Although the boy appears to be a victim of unfair treatment by people who could be expected to do better, he appears to be demonstrating a higher level of behavior. In the TV report I watched, the boy, though obviously disappointed, did not express bitterness or ill will toward the city officials. In fact, he expressed a desire and intent to enter the contest again next year.

The Bible admonishes us to treat others as we would like to be treated. Seems to me that in this case the one most adhering to that principle is the 15-year-old boy, not the Chicago city officials.

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3 Responses to For What It’s Worth

  1. Cindy says:

    very sad…

  2. Donna says:

    I can see the point that they didn’t at all want to even appear to support gangs. However, it’s too bad no one seems to have thought to ask the boy to re-do the hands. I’m glad the boy seems to be adjusting to the disappointment and not harboring bitterness. Just knowing his design was chosen is an honor, and it looks like he’s focusing on that.

  3. Hubert Edgar says:

    This reminds me of a situation that came into existence while we lived in Chicago. The deaf community had to stop using their sign for “I Love You” because a gang was using the same sign and deaf people were being shot. I, too, can see the city’s concern. However, it was very poor thinking to not have a simple re-draw done. I hope the young man does enter the contest again next year.

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