Thursday, February 9, 2012

Innocuous images can take on bizarre meanings in street gang-land

I kind of wish I could have attended the session held Wednesday by city Clerk Susana Mendoza that related to the new city vehicle stickers that will soon go on sale.
The infamous vehicle sticker

Because Mendoza had to have a serious sit-down with the Police Department and the researchers who spend their time studying the routines of street gangs – all to figure out if the city was about to pay tribute to them.

THE NEW CITY stickers have a design that shows a heart with the Chicago city skyline imposed over it. Reaching above the heart are hands of various races – all trying to grab at symbols for the police and fire departments, and for paramedics.

It was meant to be a tribute to the support we all are to feel for public safety employees who try to protect us from the dangers of daily life.

To make it even more cute, it was designed by a 15-year-old boy as part of the city’s annual contest that is meant to make the vehicle stickers something more than a cold cash-grab by the city for those of us who operate a car and live within city limits.

But there are those people who see something sinister in this, and their view ultimately prevailed as Mendoza announced Wednesday afternoon that the design will not be used.

THERE ARE THOSE who are convinced that this new city vehicle sticker is loaded with imagery meant to promote street gangs. There are those who say the boy who won the city’s contest is actually a gang member himself, and that he managed to pull off a big con against the city – making us all look stupid for the next year as those stickers are forcibly displayed (unless a motorist is willing to risk a significant fine) on local automobiles.

One website written for police officers (Second City Cop) speculates that this may cause the annual vehicle sticker contest to end. You just can’t trust these young people.

Another website that is much more graphic in its content (written apparently for those police who want to believe all the conspiracy theories being touted) seems to think that this was inevitable and we should have known better than to ever let certain types of people try to express themselves.

This particular website (check it out for yourself) goes into details about how the heart-shape of the skyline can be a street gang symbol, and how the hands that reach above to the police symbols have their fingers positioned in ways that could be interpreted as pitchforks – which also can be a symbol.

OR MAYBE IT isn’t. The boy's mother is now saying there's nothing gang-intended about the design.

Personally, I think these symbols are rather innocuous. There may be some people who wish to interpret them in a gang context. But then again, there will be others who won’t.

If anything, I wonder if giving in to this interpretation gives them some legitimacy. I can’t help but think that we’d be better off if we delegitimized anything that is gang-related – taking their alleged symbols and turning them into a meaning that has nothing to do with the gangland life.

Ultimately, that is how those gangs will die off – turning them into nothing. They exist because they provide a sense of something, of somebody, to people in our society who have nothing else to turn to.

NOW I DON’T have any evidence to indicate that this particular teenage boy had any particular motivation with his design. Maybe he did pull off some sort of scam on city officials. Maybe he didn’t. Nobody, except for the kid, really knows.

I suspect the people who are getting the most into this conspiracy of vehicle stickers loaded with gang imagery are just the kinds of people who want to rant and rage about everything surrounding them. Mendoza seems to think that by scrapping the stickers, she can avoid the argument -- which is quite a bit of a distraction from a government that should be focused on serious issues.

For all I know, perhaps their real objection is the multi-racial collection of hands that reach out to public safety people for protection.

Maybe in their world, the police and fire swat back at the hands whose colors don’t match their own.


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