To the citizens of the city of Mobile:
As I take the time to write this letter, contemplating what I should say, it occurred to me to simply speak what is in my heart to a community that has, without a doubt, displayed the kind of support other law enforcement agencies only dream of. As the police chief I am so very honored to have this opportunity to let you all know that your actions and kind expressions did not go unnoticed by me or the department.
The manner in which this city and its residents provided support, not only to the family of our fallen officer, Justin Billa, but the outreach to the other victim, Fonda Poellnitz, whose life was also lost in this horrific offense, is almost indescribable.
There is no other way to express the gratefulness that I have toward you all, except to say a very sincere and appreciative “thank you.”
To all of you who have called, sent postcards, greeting cards, flowers, shared a kind word, a social media post or made a donation to the Billa family and the Mobile Law Enforcement Foundation, we are so very appreciative.
On Tuesday our community took center stage in this country. It and perhaps the world were shown that no matter what else is going on in our humble abode, in times such as these Mobilians respond with love and compassion for their law enforcement members and crime victims that is second to none.
The world saw how a city that is made up of a spectrum of citizenry becomes one. Our communities’ actions truly spoke loudly, “We have more in common that binds us, and a lot less of what can divide us.” Thank you.
With that, I say let us keep the momentum going. Take what we have and move it to higher heights in our effort to truly make Mobile the safest city in America with respect for all. I will admonish each of us to look upon one another as neighbors; let us consider ourselves as one citywide neighborhood watch.
We can do it by continuing to put into action the kind of love, empathy, compassion and affection daily as we did on Tuesday, Feb. 27. Thank you for the continued overwhelming support that you all provided to the Mobile Police Department and the families of those affected by this dreadful offense.
Chief of Police
Address the underlying problem
Much like it’s not Friday night without “Shields and Brooks,” I hardly count it a week without reading your and Ashley’s columns. And I keep thinking about your column of Feb. 27, “Pistol packing teachers aren’t the answer.”
I agree they aren’t, and that suggestion just has “bad idea” written all over it. I guess we all have a natural tendency to seek a quick solution when we are confronted with problems like this.
In the near term your suggestion of implementing some version of airport-type security in schools probably makes the most sense. And, while we might have the most erudite of discussions on the finer points of constitutional theory, or whether or not feral hogs are an environmental problem in the Southeast (they are), it seems to me we are not addressing the larger question: What is wrong with a society and culture that produces so many mass killers, particularly among children?
Some form of terrorism may explain some, like the Fort Hood shootings in November 2009, and we may never know what caused a millionaire to shoot 58 people from a high-rise hotel in Las Vegas. But we certainly need to figure out what we are doing to produce teenage boys who think shooting up their school and killing their classmates is some kind of a solution.
You mentioned turning 50 recently. I will be 60 in a couple of months. My childhood was like something out of the movie “Stand By Me,” complete with the railroad tracks and trestle, vastly different than the world of today.
Over the course of my life and working career it has often seemed to me that the pace of change has become asymptotic. Technology is, no doubt, a factor, though thought and attitude have changed too, and a great deal of that change is positive and good.
At least we all mostly acknowledge racism is wrong and we are more accepting of sexual minorities, for example. But I cannot help but think we have, in other areas, become unmoored.
We have reverted to societal tribalism. Trust in government and institutions is at an all-time low. Lobbyists write our laws. Money seems to drive everything. Many respected leaders turn out to be corrupt or abusers of various sorts. We have gang violence. Depression and anxiety are epidemic in our culture, particularly among young people, and there seem to be links with social media and other ubiquitous technologies.
All of these school shooters have suffered from some form of mental illness. We tend to look at things in silos. But really it is all one big thing; everything is interrelated. It will take people smarter than I am to find the answers.
We can certainly raise the legal age to purchase a firearm. But we are not going to fix the underlying problem until we can address the malaise which affects significant portions of our society and figure out how to raise well-adjusted, mentally healthy children.
We support you
Today I watched the funeral procession of a fallen hero, Justin Billa, who made the ultimate sacrifice for this community.
The streets were lined with thousands who showed their respect with hands over their hearts and with waving flags. They were there to honor all who have given their lives in the line of duty.
We honor those who sacrificed and still sacrifice, that we may be safe. Officer Billa was a hero in death, but even more so in his life. My thanks to all who are part of the “Families in Blue.”
May it give you comfort to know Mobile is behind you.
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