I was by myself driving through the snow-covered mountains when I first heard of the Arizona shooting. My reaction was visceral and I could visualize the chaos in my mind. I had good reasons for my reaction, but I’m concerned about many in our society given the questionable behaviors I’ve witnessed since this horrible event. Let me explain.

Like most folks, I’ve always been a fan of television and movies. As a teenager living in the Los Angeles area, because my father had non-movie business with the major studios, I got to roam the studios freely and observe behind-the-scenes activities. Although I got to watch and even meet television and movie stars, it was the magic of making the shows and movies that interested me. I loved the writing process, the acting, and most of all, the directing. In college I took courses in everything related to media. I was a terrible actor, a fair writer, and a pretty good director. It was during that time I began to realize visual media was an incredibly powerful force, and like the written word, the visual stories were also a reflection and commentary on our society.

If you are old enough to remember director Peter Yates and his movie Bullitt, starring the late Steve McQueen, you may remember the most dramatic and telling scene. It was the final shootout which took place at SFO. The bad guy had been chased through the airport, and when cornered, began to shoot security guards and other officers. The hero Frank Bullitt opened fire, and the bad guy was blown through a plate-glass door to the screams and horror of the busy travelers. In that scene, everyone froze for a several seconds, then slowly began to move about and return to their travel activities. Within a moment, other than the bodies on the ground, it was business as usual. It was a telling sequence and a searing commentary on our cultural attitude toward violence.  Over time, we had been so inundated with both fictional and real violence, we had become increasingly numb to it. As an example, I once came upon a traffic accident in which four people had just been killed. The victims were still visible in the car as emergency workers attempted to secure the scene. People in the gathering crowd began acting as though it was some sort of carnival, and at times I even heard laughter. It was sickening.

How does this relate to the Arizona shooting and my reaction? Unfortunately, I have been an eyewitness to a deadly shooting. Events like this are real, and they are  horrific. The smell of gunpowder and death stay with you forever. Unlike scenes out of movies, the blood is not fake, and the injured and dead are real people. It appalls and angers me that before the victim’s bodies in Arizona could be removed, the media and politicians began to develop inaccurate story lines and political points. Even some in the police began to make controversial comments to make sure they stayed in the fleeting limelight. This was completely inappropriate in the wake of such a tragedy.

In my personal experience, I was a university professor having coffee with two of my students after a morning class. We were sitting next to a three-foot wall in an outdoor patio next to the student union building. We heard what clearly sounded like a gunshot.  As I got up, I saw a young man leaning over a young woman as he pulled the trigger on the rifle a second time. He then turned and walked directly toward me. I don’t remember doing it, but my students told me the next day I had pushed them down to the ground and my eyes began darting back and forth. When they asked me what I was looking for, I then recalled looking for something like an ashtray or salt shaker to throw at him. I’m an old baseball player and I suppose seeing a person with a gun who has just shot someone walking toward me, it’s all I could think of doing. In the next moment, an armed security guard ran up behind the young man, but could not see the victim or gun. I yelled to the officer the man had a gun and the officer drew his weapon. A brief chase ensued, and he and another officer fired several times killing the young man. He had shot his ex-girlfriend twice, but in some miracle, she lived. It was chaotic, sickening, and very, very real.

As an eyewitness, the media frenzy that followed necessitated moving my family out of our home for a few days. I can only imagine what these poor folks in Arizona are going through. The victims of these kinds of events are real people. Besides our prayers, they need time, space, and other resources to help them heal. What they do not need is a cynical media conjuring up wild story lines or political hacks trying to score points for the next election.

One last point, I just learned another movie about the serial killer called the “night stalker” is about to be made. Tragically, my aunt and uncle were two of this maniacs real victims. I was on the scene the morning they were discovered. Do we really need to make another movie about this disgraceful individual? What about all the heroic and uplifting stories that abound in this world? Our culture needs a change for the better. Let’s do our best and hope it begins very soon.