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O’Neill: Bombing reinforces GOP convention security

Special correspondent
Published:   |   Updated: April 22, 2013 at 03:58 PM

I don't think this is a reach. The Boston Marathon terrorist attack has tragically reinforced last summer's still controversial — to some — decision to go heavily pro-active and pre-emptive in preparing security for Tampa's hosting of the 2012 Republican National Convention.

Yes, it looked like a militarized zone around a good chunk of downtown and Channelside. Yes, it cost some locals business — which was also a function of mismanaged expectations. Yes, there's negligible positive buzz from municipal photo-ops more reminiscent of Check Point Charlie than a global coming-out party. Yes, armed-guard-and-barricade ambience is at odds with maxing out on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to preen in front of political and corporate elites. And, no, it was nothing the ACLU would recommend.

Having said all that – again – it's also this: the right approach. Terrorism in Boston reminds us that we live, alas, in that kind of world. But it's better, to be sure, than needlessly dying in that kind of world. To err on the side of prevention isn't an error to terrorists.

The twin, sequenced explosions – in effect improvised explosive devices – that took lives and limbs at the Boston Marathon was the kind of cowardly evil attack that increasingly looms around targets with symbolic value to sworn societal enemies. They may manifest themselves in a homegrown shrapnel show such as what happened in Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta or in an al-Qaeda-inspired dodged bullet at Times Square. And we have ample reason to believe that such lethal incidents are now more likely the horrific purview of freelancers than teams of well-coordinated, brainwashed martyrs-to-be.

As noted, symbolism matters. An American Olympiad. A uniquely iconic Square. A Patriots Day holiday that features the world's most prominent marathon. As teeming-masses magnets, they're all relatively vulnerable. Also, those with intent to harm always have the early advantage.

Of course, you can't ultimately stop everyone with carnage on their minds. But neither can you back off, be intimidated and concede psychological defeat. What you can do is identify reasonably likely targets and use common-sense security approaches that make an incident or an attack more problematic, possibly to the point of deterrence.

Think back again to what that GOP convention symbolized to the worst of the worst. The official gathering of the American political party that was in power when Iraq was invaded and occupied. A venue that is in the same town as MacDill Air Force Base, the home of Centcom and the nerve center of the war in the Middle East.

On the logistical side, there was air space, a bay and channels, and a crush of people from somewhere else. Would-be scenarios included a "dirty bomb," a suicide driver and a bogus-credentialed blogger. Think Tampa 2012 wasn't symbolically alluring to the despicably demonic? Think window-breaking, trash-enamored anarchists were really the biggest threat and concern last August?

Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Police Chief Jane Castor, Assistant Chief John Bennett and others have moved on. So has this city. Upon further reflection, thanks again. For a lot of reasons, nothing happened but a tropical storm warning and some unfulfilled marketing potential. We can live with that.

How does this sound for a movie?

A unique, show-business oriented, coming-of-age-story that's also a 1960s period piece – that combustible era of racial riots, Jim Crow, Freedom Riders, antiwar protests and three blind-siding assassinations.

Then add the phenomenon of a dominant, black-owned recording business that dared to market to both black and white listeners while jump-starting the careers of some of America's most iconic recording artists. Yes, we're talking about Motown, its savvy, egotistical, flamboyant founder Berry Gordy and all those "Hitsville" stars – from Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross to The Temptations, The Four Tops and Martha and the Vandellas. Can you say soundtrack for the ages!

And then include – no, feature – "Little Stevie Wonder," a truly gifted talent and Motown meal ticket whose career faced early sidetracking because of truancy scenarios. And it might very well have had it not been for the legally blind, white tutor that Motown hired to help Stevie navigate adolescence, avoid exploitation and hit the books – both talking and Braille – on the high-octane, highly distracting, show-biz road.

That tutor, Tampa's own Ted Hull, stayed with Stevie through his teen years – and through the constant loop of Motown touring that included off-the-charts talent, over-the-top personalities and variations on a racism theme. It came from whites because he was with blacks in the South and from blacks because he was a white buffer between fans and Stevie up north. He once considered dating the "flirtatious" Ross, but backed off out of deference to the societal taboo on interracial dating.

A few years back, Hull, 75, chronicled these recollections in a book: “The Wonder Years: My Life & Times With Stevie Wonder." He's now looking for a movie collaborator. Ted's a genuinely nice guy and deserves one last shot at the limelight, but this is also about us. For purely selfish reasons, I hope this compelling story makes it to the big screen.

Another name for the Mike Tyson one-man show: The P.T. Barnum Tour.

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