When the weather is nice, I like to grill out. I decided to make steaks or pork chops for dinner one evening, I don't remember which, and I had the grill going. I had the grill set up on my deck and I was busy running food and utensils in and out of the kitchen, through the sliding doors.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw someone in the alley and I stopped for a second to see what was going on. There was a young man lighting a gasoline fire in the alley.
He was with his friend. And a 3-year-old.
I called out to him.
"Hey, I don't think that's a good idea, man. You probably need to put that out."
He just stared at me with resentment.
"Seriously. I don't want to see anyone get hurt. Or for you to burn my garage down."
And then I went back to what I was doing. As I was heading back and forth, there was a blind spot where he couldn't see me, but I could hear him talking.
I won't quote his exact words, but it ended with him saying he'd burn my house down with me in it.
That got my full attention.
"Hey. You know what? I didn't yell at you, I didn't cuss at you, I didn't threaten to call the police on you. I was 16 once, I did stupid stuff, too. I have two little girls that live in this house with me and my wife and I don't bother anyone. I work two jobs and I worked for everything I have. But, more importantly, I didn't want you to accidentally hurt yourself or the little one that's with you. I asked you nicely to put the fire out, and you threaten to burn my house down? I treated you with respect."
At that moment, I found the right words to say to this young man that had anger and contempt for others in his heart.
He put the fire out.
One of his teachers is a family member of mine. She told me he shared this story with her and told her I "treated him with respect and came at him with some real talk."
I'm sharing this unconnected story with you to connect you with the message I want to share.
Recently, we had another tragic loss of life in our community.
Marquis "Bubba" Jones was only 27 years old. He was a father, a son and a friend to many. He was shot by a police officer while attempting to flee a traffic stop.
We don't have all the facts, but it's clear it didn't have to end the way it did. Marquis didn't have to run. The officer didn't have to shoot. But, events unfolded the way they did and, unfortunately, what is done is done. Now we have a lot of unanswered questions.
The community is obviously upset and I've seen some heat directed at our law enforcement. I fear the fire burning in people's hearts because I know more violence is not the answer. We've lost too much already.
I believe in the more peaceful approach. We should give Police Chief Doug Beaird a chance to prove our police officers are honorable men and women worthy of our trust and respect.
We should let law enforcement continue with their investigation and ask for openness and accountability.
I love Burlington and the people that live here. So, I understand the anger, the frustration, the grief, and even the helplessness of the situation, but if you're thinking of doing something stupid, please don't.
There are resources available to you if you need someone to talk to. In this community, when you need help, you just have to ask.
Burlington is made up of honest, hard-working families with children that don't want to be caught in the middle.
Please don't do anything to hurt yourself or anyone else.
If you have anger and contempt in your heart, I want you to follow the example of the young man from the story I shared.
He put the fire out.
Robert Critser lives in Burlington.