Of course it could. Sanford, Florida, where Trayvon Martin was killed, was a multi-ethnic gated community designed to keep bad guys out. Martin and George Zimmerman, the man who shot him in the chest, both were insiders living in Sanford at the time.

Neither was an angel, but both had a lot going for them too—just like a lot of us who live in Forest Park.

Zimmerman was the Neighborhood Watch coordinator in the gated community and was working for an associate degree in criminal justice. He had received an A in criminal litigation. At the same time, he was charged with assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest in 2005, and his ex-fiancé filed a restraining order against him in that same year, alleging domestic violence.

On the one hand, Trayvon was described as an A and B student who “majored in cheerfulness.” On the other hand, at the time he was killed he was suspended from school. He had been suspended three times that school year, once for tardiness and truancy, once for graffiti and once for having a marijuana pipe and an empty bag with marijuana residue.

Our village has small town charm and many, many good people live here, but Newtown, Connecticut and Aurora, Colorado and Oak Creek, Wisconsin are nice towns, too. Bad things, as Harold Kushner reminded us, happen to good people. We need to continue doing what we can to maintain a culture of non-violent conflict resolution in this town.

A tragedy like the killing of Trayvon Martin is possible in Forest Park but, in my opinion, not probable. Here’s why.

  • Each of the three patrol shifts in our police department has officer on duty who has received Crisis Intervention Team training from the Chicago Police Dept. According to the FPPD web site, “The team specializes in assisting residents with mental health and substance abuse issues. The CIT officers are certified Crisis Intervention workers with the State of Illinois.” Those officers can proactively diffuse potentially explosive situations.
  • According to the Illinois Legal Aid website, Illinois does have a stand your ground law similar to the one in Florida. The ILA site states, “When you’re defending yourself or someone else, deadly force is OK only if you reasonably believe it’s necessary ‘to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm’ to yourself or another.” A key word here is reasonably. “It’s not self-defense if you are over-sensitive, over-react, or overdo it. You must act reasonably.”
  • George Zimmerman over-reacted. He should have obeyed the 911 dispatcher and remained in his car. All of us, I know, can come up with anecdotes of people we know being over-sensitive, over-reacting and overdoing it, but on the whole I find the culture here in town to be pretty reasonable. And when some people do over-react, several other people usually call them on it.
  • An article in the Orlando Sentinel in March stated that said there were dozens of reports of attempted break-ins in that neighborhood which “had created an atmosphere of fear” in the community. When people are afraid, they often over-react. I don’t sense an atmosphere of fear in Forest Park.
  • Forest Park has a Neighborhood Watch as well as a Citizen’s Police Academy. My experience with the FPPD is that they involve interested citizens in keeping watch over their neighborhoods while at the same time emphasizing that the police are the ones trained to intervene in suspicious circumstances.
  • Finally, and this was new insight for me, in their book The Spirit Level authors Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett show a strong correlation between income disparity and levels of violence. In other words, the bigger the gap between the largest income in a society and the smallest, the more violence there will be.

I asked a local realtor what the most expensive house in Forest Park would sell for, and he said in the $300,000 dollar range. The median income in town is around $50,000, while the highest individual income of a resident that I’m aware of is around $124,000.

Anything is possible, of course, and we need to keep working at maintaining a healthy community, but from what I see, we as a village are on the right course.

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