Shannon Wood got know several Forest Park police officers because of her job taking overnight parking calls at the police department in town, so when the Fox Lake police officer was killed in the line of duty on Sept. 1, she felt she had to do something to show her support for the police in her hometown.
That’s how her Our Hearts Bleed Blue campaign got started. She picked September, because Sept. 19 was designated Thank a Police Officer Day by the Whole Truth Project whose Facebook post has already received over 11,000 likes. (Google either Whole Truth Project or Thank a Police Officer Day to learn more.)
Wood was looking for a low-cost way to support the police and came up with the idea of putting a post on her Facebook page encouraging Forest Parkers to tie blue ribbons around trees.
“I just thought it would be nice if people wanted to put a ribbon around a tree to show our support for the hard work they do to keep us safe,” she explained.
It was kind of a spontaneous decision without going through a lot of strategic planning and without any goal of changing the world. It was just something she felt she wanted to do.
“After the Michael Brown incident in Ferguson,” she said, “there was a lot of anti-police talk going around. I wanted our police officers to know that there are people who support them.”
She said she understands that there are some racist cops, but “you can’t just condemn a whole group of people by what a few do. One bad egg doesn’t mean they all are bad. Everyone is an individual. It’s a hard job.”
Because of her job at the police department, Wood has a special empathy for police officers. “I’m biased,” she acknowledged. “Because I worked at night, I saw those officers come in really tired, often after working a double shift. It’s not an easy job. When they make a traffic stop, for example, they never know what they’re going to get into. They don’t know what’s going through someone’s head or where they’re at. I would be scared. I couldn’t be a police officer.”
She said she is not without empathy for victims of racism. But just like those who complain that some white cops don’t treat African Americans as individuals, so she is encouraging Forest Park residents to see their law enforcement professionals as individuals.
“They’re police officers,” she said, “but they’re also mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, people just like us. They do an important job. Some people forget that they are people, too.”
Treating people as individuals is how Wood approaches all of life. “I wouldn’t care if an elephant lived next door to me,” she said with a laugh, “as long as my neighbor is respectful.” She said that’s why she loves Forest Park. Referring to the 39 residents who have already tied blue ribbons around the trees on their parkways, she said, “Our community comes together for all sorts of things. We support each other.”
Wood compared Forest Park to Highland Park on the North Shore where she grew up. “We were not rich like most of my neighbors,” she said. “We lived at my grandmother’s house. It’s like they are living in a bubble that’s not really real. I like the mix of people here. People on the North Shore have a lot of money. I feel it’s more balanced here. It’s not so out of whack.”
Wood, who has lived in Forest Park since 2002, referred to the saying that it takes a village to raise a child to explain why she invests in her community. She helped coach T-ball this summer and became the president of the North Side Parent Teachers Council. She sees parents and teachers as being team members.
“Right now,” she said, “I’m doing things like the ice cream social we had recently to try to bring together more of the community to get to know each other. We also want our teachers to know we’re there for them. We’re about building relationships.”
“I just hope if people read this article,” she added, “that they’ll put a ribbon on a tree and remember that officers are people. Go easy on them. Don’t assume that because they have a uniform on they’re out to get you.”
If you want to connect with Shannon Wood, her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.