A friend and I were going back and forth about the opening day midnight showings of the new Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises. Both of us are huge Batman fans dating back to our childhoods, and we were feeling the rush of excitement tied to what promises to be one of the biggest Hollywood blockbusters in history. Ultimately, I just did not have the stamina to sit in the theater at that hour.
When I awoke this morning I glanced at my iPhone and dug my palms into my eyes to clear them because I was stunned to see tweets and text messages about mass murders at a theater in Aurora, Colorado. The gruesome news of at least a dozen dead and possibly as many as 50 injured was simply shocking to absorb. That could have been any of us at any theater in America....
Indeed they were, be it the three-month-old baby who miraculously survived, first, the tossed tear gas then the shootings and wild stampede as bodies scampered for their lives. Or the bodies of various sizes and ages that were riddled with bullets from the guns of 24-year-old James Holmes, the one suspect now in custody. Apparently this young man, who only recently described himself as "quiet and easy-going" in an apartment rental application, was anything but: it's been reported he had at least four guns -- an "AK type" rifle, a shotgun and two handguns, plus some form of explosives were found in his home after he gave up, without resistance, in the theater parking lot.
In the coming days we will learn more about James Holmes, who was a student at the University of Colorado School of Medicine until just last month. What we do know is that this has instantly brought back uncomfortable flashbacks of the mass shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999, of other mass murders in American history. We will hear the debates, on repeat, between gun control advocates and the powerful gun rights mouthpieces. We will decry how easy it is to get tear-gas canisters, and the dead, God bless their souls, will be eulogized for days and weeks. And then the headlines and back-stories, except for the families of the murdered and the wounded, will fade away.
What will often not be said, or not heard very loudly is that America, our America, is a nation dominated and driven by violence, a violence so cancerous that it is spread every single day of our waking lives. Including in films like The Dark Knight Rises. Including in our reality television shows, our video games, our pro football player bounties, our out-of-control stats around domestic violence, and even in the verbal tear gas tossed to and fro by innumerable talking heads on radio and TV. Including how we are constantly being led into one war after another that never seems to have a conclusion. All of this for the sake of profit, fame, and ratings, or ego, competition, and pathetic notions of power. With little regard for how we the people are inhaling the belief that the only solution for conflict or beef, for feelings of loneliness or isolation or fear or, yes, hatred and powerlessness, is to pick up a gun and aim it at another human being with no regard for the consequences.
We also will not hear that this was an act of terrorism, but what else is it when someone who clearly had an agenda or is emotionally disturbed -- or both -- thinks it his basic right and freedom to unleash tear gas and bullets into a theater packed with innocent human beings? The point of a terrorist, be it overseas or domestically, is to bring profound fear to the lives of others, to paralyze them emotionally, spiritually, and socially.
I do not know about you but I certainly am now thinking twice about going to see the Batman film after this. And I wonder how soon the day will come when Americans will have to walk through metal detectors just to watch a movie?
Perhaps the day is here, as I have duly noted that in my city New York police commissioner Ray Kelly made this statement about the police presence at screenings of the latest Batman feature:
"As a precaution against copycats and to raise the comfort levels among movie patrons in the wake of the horrendous shooting in Colorado, the New York City Police Department is providing coverage at theaters where the 'The Dark Knight Rises' is playing in the five boroughs."
Finally, I for one definitely want to see gun control in our America, a tighter, stricter, more enforced brand of gun control. Be it the ghettos of urban America or a movie theater or high school in suburban America, enough is simply enough. Guns and bullets do not discriminate. They kill us equally.
Yet all the gun control in the world will mean nada, as I have said before, if we as Americans do not come together and have a national conversation about the root causes of violence, where it comes from, what fosters it, what each of us does in our own ways to spread it, allowing it to fester, to paraphrase the great poet Langston Hughes, until, yet again, it explodes?
Kevin Powell, writer, activist, public speaker, is the author or editor of 11 books, including "Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan, and The Ghost of Dr. King: Blogs and Essays" (www.lulu.com). Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @kevin_powell