Thank you for serving and protecting us, Officer Billa. Rest In Peace.
It is one of those perfect Spring days in Mobile where the temperature is still below hot and the azaleas are turning colors with fancy names like fuchsia and magenta. A man wearing red boots toddles across the intersection of Broad and Canal and another prays the rosary as he walks along Spring Hill Avenue. Windows are rolled down with “Devil Went Down to Georgia” and a Rhianna song playing as they drive by.
But it is also the day that Officer Justin Billa is laid to rest. Hundreds of people stand along the funeral route on Highway 90 holding flags and paying respect the only way they can, by being there. There are moms with young children, employees from Lowes in their red aprons and nurses from Industrial Medical Clinic in green, pink and blue scrubs.
The city that prides itself in parades rarely has a procession like this. Hundreds of police cars driving slowly with lights flashing for miles in respect of the slain officer who had only served for two years. All of those the blue lights and not one siren. Heartbreaking silence. They have come from Baton Rouge, Hattiesburg, Saraland, Satsuma and Hoover. Dallas, Texas, Escambia County, Florida and Maryland. Firefighters stand at attention in front of their firetrucks parked in the medians.
Some cars say “Honor, Integrity and Service,” “Sworn to Protect, Dedicated to Serve,” or “To Protect and Serve.”
How do you protect these men and women who are “sworn to protect, dedicated to serve?” What kind of person goes into a job knowing that a bad day at work can lead to a funeral? They say facing death is part of the job and they do it anyway. Some for over 20 years. I want to tell each one I meet to find something safer so they can keep kissing the person they love and tucking their kids into bed tonight, tomorrow night and for the rest of their long lives. Instead, I just say “thank you,” but that feels hollow on a day like today. How do you thank a person who is willing to give up everything they care about just so I can safely do the silly things I do every day?
The procession goes on for an hour before the white hearse carrying Officer Billa passes by. His casket is covered with an American flag. I never met Officer Billa and the pictures of him with his beautiful wife and young daughter hurt so much that I can’t look at them for long. I wonder what he would think if he saw the love and sadness that his death is giving so many people.
I also wonder about Fonda Poellnitz, the domestic abuse victim who was shot and killed by her ex-husband that night. What will her funeral on March 3 be like and how is her death affecting the people who love her? She didn’t deserve to die either.
Is there anything we can learn from this and do better for law enforcement or victims of domestic abuse? Or is this a tragic event that will be forgotten until a new crisis gives us a reason to mourn and bring out our flags.
How do we serve and protect all of these people who give their lives to serve and protect us?