Removing Stigmas And Breaking Down Barriers

A little more than two months ago, the 800 block of South Greenlawn Ave. was the site of Peoria's second murder of 2014.

But on Tuesday evening, it seemed impossible that the violence and chaos of the night Derrick Booth, Jr. was gunned down could've happened on that humble street nestled in the city's South Side as the neighbors came together to celebrate their community. 

More than 100 residents packed the street as part of National Night Out Against Crime. All along the block, people gathered on stoops and porches to enjoy the mild summer evening. The smell of barbecue flooded the air, accompanied by the sound of laughter. Just down the street from the grill, a cop played a pick-up game of basketball with about a dozen children. The whole scene was a far cry from the crime-ridden ghetto many picture when they think about the South Side. 

"It's just a perception, it's not true," said LaVetta Ricca, who's lived on South Greenlawn Ave. for most of her life. "I've been here for a long time. I know it's changed, but there's still lots, and lots, and lots of good people down here."

For Ricca, the gathering was much more than a summertime block party; it was a way of overcoming stigmas created by tragedies like the death of Booth, the 22-year-old son of local high school basketball coach Derrick Booth and stepson of State Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth who was fatally shot on May 24 at 813 South Greenlawn. 

"It's really good for the comradery of the neighborhood, getting people together. We have the police here, so the kids see that the police are just like everyone else. You know, they're good guys, too," Ricca said. 

The party on South Greenlawn Ave. was among more than 30 National Night Out events planned in neighborhoods throughout Peoria on Tuesday. While the Night Out aims to help residents, businesses, and police get to know one another better, Ricca hoped her party would help everyone forget their troubles, real or perceived, for one night and just have a good time.

"And they are having a good time," she said. 

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