Stumbling home from an after-hours party one night, I noticed a neat row of jackets hanging just inside of the open door of Engine Company No. 3 of the Boston Fire Department. I always thought those jackets with the bold yellow stripes and the giant “BFD” across the back were pretty cool, and I decided this was my golden opportunity to own one.

I turned my Stanford Cardinal hat around backward, crept in, and eased the nearest jacket off its hook and onto my back. As I snuck out, I heard someone yell, “Hey!” So I ran. What you don’t know about firefighters’ jackets until you wear one is they’re heavy, their buckles are noisy, their stripes and letters are reflective, and they’re fitted for the firefighter who wears them. This one practically dragged on the ground as I flew up Wareham Street with one of Boston’s bravest in pursuit. I tried to jump a fence, but was surprised when I wasn’t my usual nimble self. Something was weighing me down. I decided to dump the jacket and split, figuring the chase would be over once they had it back.

A few minutes later, a Boston police cruiser rolled up on me. The firefighter who ran after me couldn’t provide a positive ID because all he saw was “a black kid in a red hat,” but that was enough to get me placed under arrest. I was 19. Luckily, that momentary lapse in judgment didn’t come to define the rest of my life — and I don’t think 19-year-old Chris Brown’s momentary lapse in judgment should become the defining event of his life, either.

Brown was recently booked on suspicion of making criminal threats in connection with an incident with his girlfriend, R&B superstar Rihanna, that left her battered and beaten. More charges could be filed against him, but I doubt that will happen for a number of reasons. First, she probably won’t want to press charges or won’t cooperate with D.A. Steve Cooley if he decides to pursue felony counts of domestic violence and assault. Especially since she reportedly went to see Chris after she was discharged from Cedars-Sinai, has apparently been in contact with him, and has been quoted as saying she “still loves him.”

Then there’s the Harvey Levin effect. Levin’s gossip-as-news Web site, TMZ, obtained the official LAPD photo of Rihanna’s face (taken at the time of the incident) and posted it online. Other Web sites and legitimate news services picked it up and have run it all over the world. When contrasted with the angelic visage people are used to seeing, the image of her bruised face, bloodied nose, and split lip is so grossly prejudicial to potential jurors that on the off-chance this gets into a courtroom, there will literally be no way to seat an impartial panel. With the only witness to the alleged crimes most likely refusing to cooperate, Brown’s attorney, Mark Geragos, will easily get the charges dismissed.

But the case of Chris Brown (teen heartthrob) vs. Chris Brown (abuser) is already being tried in the court of public opinion. Gossip monger Perez Hilton wants a full boycott, on-air personalities (like Ryan Seacrest) are discussing the topic ad nauseam, celebrities with a connection to the couple (like Jay-Z and Kanye West) are weighing in with statements, and even people who have nothing to do with Chris or Rihanna and are in no position to judge other peoples’ relationships (like Jessica Simpson) are suddenly sharing their opinions on domestic violence. Outside of the “Thirty-Mile-Zone,” at least two radio stations have stopped playing his songs, Wrigley pulled his Doublemint Gum ads, and his “Got Milk?” campaign isn’t being renewed. Corporate America seems to have already decided that Chris Brown is a bad guy and Madison Avenue appears to no longer believe in his marketability.

Luckily for him, he still has millions of fans who are his age or younger; so they’re less judgmental and more likely to forgive him than people who are older and more set in their ways. That means there is still a chance for him to restore his image and save his career. But he has to go public. Sitting around for a week, then releasing two sentences of contrition isn’t going to be good enough.

He needs to make a statement about his anger management issues and his intent to seek counseling for them. Then he should become a major donor to and poster-boy for an organization that provides services to women and children who are survivors of domestic abuse. If Rihanna does still love him, perhaps she’ll forgive him and be by his side through it all. Then maybe they, as a couple, can parlay their public foibles into increased awareness about the very common danger of domestic abuse. The world won’t see her as a victim, won’t see him as a monster, and they just might help some people in the process.

Kenny Mack is a multi-platform content provider living in Santa Monica who is shopping his book, “Word In Edgewise: The Collected Opinions Of America’s Smartest Columnist” to forward-thinking publishers. He can be reached at kennymack@gmail.com