In every community, there are public events which help define the town’s self-image. Chicago’s got its Taste. Cicero has the Houby Festival (that’s mushrooms by the way). Oak Park has its microbrew event.
In Forest Park, which clearly likes a good party, you’d have to review a pretty hefty list of defining events Ð St. Pat’s parade, Summer Fest, Rib Fest, the Bob Haeger All-School Picnic, Juneteenth, No Gloves Nationals, and, of course, the 4th of July – before you could choose just one.
This week, most of us would shout out the Independence Day fireworks because what you’ve just lost is top of mind and because Forest Park put on one hell of a fireworks show for the past 30 years. And we’re still reacting to the somewhat surprising news that the park district board voted two weeks back to cancel next year’s show.
The early spin from the park district was that the show (and its security) was too big and too expensive. That the growing crowd (and the necessary security) was too costly. Didn’t take a tea leaf reader to recognize that what brought the extravaganza down was the potential of gang knuckleheads Ð both from Forest Park and from neighboring towns Ð who might be congregating at the park looking to make a show of their own.
We get that it is infuriating to see a great hometown tradition brought low by street thugs and wannabes. We get the impulse that says never surrender to the threat. We hear the cry that says it is time take back the town.
But public safety always trumps public entertainment. As the week progressed, local officials became more candid in admitting that potential gang presence was a factor in their decision. As we talked to local cops, too, we heard expressions of relief that the event had been ended before serious violence had occurred.
There are repercussions to Forest Park in not having a fireworks show. There would be far more troubling repercussions to Forest Park if a gang shooting in an overcrowded park had taken lives.
In the meanwhile we look forward to what our inventive park district can cook up for celebrating a fireworks-less 4th.