I am very sorry

I am very sorry

By Stanley Campbell

I am very sorry

I am so sorry.

I knew Richard Lewis, the young man who set himself on fire at the CherryVale Mall.

I knew him as a kind, concerned young man that would not hurt anyone and could not, I thought, hurt himself. But he cared so much about the environment, and he was so disturbed by the apparent lack of caring by the masses of people, that he did this atrocious act of self-immolation.

Richard came to some of the Coffee Talk meetings that I organize for Rockford Peace & Justice Action Committee (every Monday night, 7:30 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Church). He usually brought with him a little “zine”—a collection of writings copied, folded and stapled together.

He handed me some papers and, without thinking, I put them into the stack at the Peace Store.

Then the tragic news: Richard Lewis had set himself ablaze at the CherryVale Mall on the busiest shopping day of the year. It didn’t take long for people to ask why.

His mother had heard that he was a member of Rockford Peace & Justice. We had reporters and police at our door. I was more than happy to give them what I thought was Richard’s work. I even read it on WNTA’s Chris Bowman radio talk show.

But a day later (and a dollar shorter), I find out that I had taken the wrong “magazine.” That the writings I had handed out belonged to another young activist, someone who’d left a few copies at the Peace Store.

I apologize to the young man. I apologize to his friends. I apologize especially to the family of Richard Lewis.

I get so much material, and I am lazy and do not scrutinize it as I should. What I thought was the troubled writings of a young suicide attempt, was not. The family has suffered enough and doesn’t deserve this.

Please forgive me. I will be more careful in the future. I will also try to listen more closely to the talk of these younger “radicals.” I don’t know if I could have stopped Richard from hurting himself.

I do know that a lot of young people take on the troubles of the world, and some are so upset that they try outrageous acts. So outrageous that they hurt themselves and sometimes others.

Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Minsitries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

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