CLEVELAND - I have long been a fan of Hollywood. Ever since I was 10 years old, when my childhood friends and I went to the movie theaters in our old neighborhood. We went to enjoy much of what Hollywood had to offer.
The thought of a gunman entering the theaters of my youth was far from our young minds when our parents allowed us to spend Saturday or Sunday afternoons in the darkened rooms of theaters. We thought the only trouble would be dramatized trouble on the screen, as part of a movie script.
However, trouble walked into a theater in Aurora, Colo., and has changed not only how we view movie theaters, but perhaps how we, as a society, view our collective selves. A gunman entered the door and opened fire using an assault rifle. He sprayed a full house of customers, viewing the new Batman movie. Twelve died from his hail of gunfire and several dozen others were wounded.
In the apartment of the alleged gunmen, authorities found an arsenal of explosives which are wired so intricately, authorities are literally inching their way through the maze of wires, chemicals, and whatever else had been rigged to detonate, presumably upon the opening of the apartment door.
All of this is a far cry from the 1950s and 60s when I was an almost-weekly customer of the Liberty Theater in Cleveland. It was our neighborhood movie house. My friends and I would sit shoulder to shoulder in the theater and watch Hollywood unroll on the screen before us. We could tell the bad guys from the good guys in the movie as we put our entire focuses on the screen.
We never eyed the door, wondering if someone might come in with a gun and shoot up the place.
As a professional television newsman for more than 35 years, I have covered other mass murders, terrorist acts, assassination attempts on a president, kidnappings, burglaries, rapes, fatal shootings in school settings and a long list of other crimes. Sadly, these crimes have become daily offerings on our newscasts.
I have learned the danger zone is everywhere and anywhere. The days of walking along the open-air observation deck of Cleveland International Airport to watch airplanes take off and land are gone. Terrorism closed the observation deck, which was on the roof of one of the airport concourses.
The public schools all have security guards in them. During my childhood, there had been little need for them. But the times have changed and security is as much a part of the school scene as are the teachers and custodians.
My supermarket has an armed guard near the cashiers. He keeps a watchful eye on the comings and goings of people who walk through the door. Most customers get their shopping carts and head for the various areas of the store. However, there have been instances when crime walked in with no intent of buying green groceries, only of stealing the green currency in the cashiers' tills.
I expect I will see more security guards in movie theaters next. When I was a child, there was need only for a theater manager with a flashlight to gain control of any situation in the theater. The times have changed and, in this instance, not for the better.
Somewhere along the road from my childhood to my present status as a mature citizen, we have lost our way. Violence or its potential hangs over us like a dark cloud on a storm day. So I have added another place where violence has struck -- the movie theater.
Are we safe anywhere? Not a hundred percent. Violence resides among us. What happened in Colorado could have occurred anywhere. The new Batman movie had been on my mind. I work with several colleagues who went to the midnight showing of the film in Cleveland. They could have been the ones sprayed in a hail of bullets had the gunman come blasting in the theater they visited.
In Colorado, the horror was not on the movie screen. It came in through the door. What the customers heard was not just the superb sound of the movie, but the real-life sound of bullets leaving the chamber of a rifle in quick succession. The violence was not on the screen. It was directed toward the popcorn set, those customers who simply wanted to enjoy seeing Batman get the bad guys on the screen while they ate the goodies they bought at the concessions stand.
The blood splattered on the seats because this violence was not Hollywood's offering. It was fueled by a real person with a real finger on a real trigger.
So what do we do to quell the storm? Since my childhood, I have noticed that little by little, we, as a society, have edged deeper into a lack of decency and civility. Little by little, we have chipped away at the things we held dear. Now, decades later, the crime is so rampant, we cannot find a place that we believe to absolutely safe. Perhaps that place never really existed.
However, when I was a kid, my parents never thought I would be harmed in a movie theater. Neither did I. Now, I am not so sure. Much has changed and we are unraveling in parts of our society like threads pulled from