Last Sunday’s Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, Fla., was not random, in that it happened at a specifically targeted place. But the atrocity was random in the sense that it could have happened anywhere – a point that was not lost on Triangle nightclub owners.
“Club to club, seeing that happen was weird and hard,” said Kym Register, who owns The Pinhook in Durham. “The fact is there’s so much hate, and something like that can happen anywhere, even a club that’s a safe space where queer people can go and be themselves.”
This latest mass shooting left 50 people dead, including the gunman, and even more wounded at a gay nightclub. It follows November’s terrorist attack at the Paris theater Bataclan, in which 89 people were killed and hundreds more wounded at a concert.
That leaves local venue operators understandably uneasy as they re-evaluate their security and talk of increased vigilance. The hard truth is that if someone shows up at a public gathering with a high-powered assault rifle and murderous intent, there’s not much that can be done to prevent tragedy.
“We are a soft target all day long,” said Raleigh Convention Center director Doug Grissom, who also oversees other city venues including Red Hat Amphitheater, Coastal Credit Union Music Park at Walnut Creek and the Duke Energy Center complex. “Any public facility that invites the public in, there’s a better chance of something random happening than other places. Sometimes it’s hard to secure it as much as you’d like, especially in the climate we live in now.”
Red Hat and Walnut Creek check bags and purses at the gate. PNC Arena, which is operated by Gale Force Sports & Entertainment, also has used walk-through metal detectors since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“We employ the Raleigh Police Department for events and have 24-hour security on-site, closed-circuit TV, alarms,” said Larry Perkins, vice president of guest relations and assistant general manager for PNC Arena. “There’s also been a hardening process on the building. A lot of things we’ve done may not be visible to the public, but there are behind-the-scenes things that make us less attractive as a target.”
As for nightclubs that might hold several hundred people, measures like airport-style security screening just aren’t practical – or appealing.
“I don’t want to be the kind of place that pats everybody down because that’s just not who we are,” said Paul Siler, co-owner of Kings Barcade in Raleigh. “ ‘O.K., we need to shake down everybody who comes in and make sure nobody’s got any weapons on ’em’ – that sounds just terrible to me. I would get out of the business right now.”
Pinhook’s Register sounds a similar note and takes a more communal approach to policing crowds at her club, which is known for being queer-friendly and progressive.
Places like Cat’s Cradle help reduce the amount of loneliness in the world, which can be a counter-balance to the kind of recruiting that any group of haters might be doing.
Frank Heath, owner of the Cat’s Cradle
“We just don’t want that atmosphere with metal detectors,” Register said. “That’s like violence against violence. I feel that the more you show authority and aggression, the more likely it is to be met with aggression. If you empower people with ownership because you care about them and make safe spaces for them, people will take care of what happens there. So far, it’s worked for us.”
Frank Heath, who owns the Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro, cited his club’s veteran staff, who often can spot trouble before it starts.
“Having experienced workers familiar with crowds and the club can help keep something like that from happening, or being worse,” Heath said. “It does make you rethink everything, but it also reinforces why you run a club. Places like Cat’s Cradle help reduce the amount of loneliness in the world, which can be a counter-balance to the kind of recruiting that any group of haters might be doing. There’s a lot of love in churches, rock clubs, bowling alleys.”
Still, no matter how prepared and vigilant the staff at any given club, there’s no accounting for people who are armed, dangerous and determined enough to do the unspeakable.
“It’s a huge country and a huge world, and there are a million places where it could’ve happened,” Siler said. “We can’t change that. If it happens again, closer by, maybe we re-evaluate. But it’s not like the Rialto Theatre got a metal detector because a crazy person shot up a movie theater in Colorado. It’s just not practical.”