Photos and reporting by Susan Fried
Nina Gregory, a volunteer with “Not This Time” passed out shirts emblazoned with the words #Justice4Billy as a crowd gathered in the drenching rain at Westlake Center on Saturday, April 14th to support the friends and family of William “Billy” Langfitt.
Langfitt, 28, was shot and killed by a Pierce County Sheriff’s deputy on March 16th, after Billy’s girlfriend called 911 for help when Billy began experiencing a mental health crisis. Billy Langfitt’s wasn’t the only name inscribed on t-shirts in the crowd. Many family members whose loved ones died at the hands of local law enforcement came to support the newest member of the group founded through tragedy involving police violence.
Charleena Lyle’s cousins Tanya Rene Isabell and Katrina Johnson, the mothers of Daniel Covarrubias and Giovonn Joseph-McDade and the parents of Leonard Thomas showed up to march in the pouring rain as a gesture of support for the friends and family of Billy Langfitt. Andre Taylor of “Not This Time”, an organization founded after his brother Che Taylor was killed by Seattle Police said at the rally, “if a person has been hurt, if your family member has been killed unjustly we will go and fight for you”.
During the rally, each speaker touched on the need for law enforcement to be trained for interactions with people with mental illness and restrain their use of lethal force. Washington State Senator Manka Dhingra, ACLU Deputy Director Michele Storms, and Michelle Meaker with the National Alliance on Mental Illness all support House Bill 3003 (which modifies i-940), which will be enacted on June 8th, mandating police receive de-escalation, mental health, and crisis intervention training.
Naomi Powers, Billy’s girlfriend, said when she called 911 she told the operator that Billy was having a mental health crisis and she needed help getting him to a hospital. Power’s and Billy’s friends and family believe if the officer responding to Naomi’s call had adequate mental health and crisis intervention training, Billy would still be alive. Billy’s father, Bill Langfitt told the crowd “There was not a split-second decision that had to be made that night. My son was confused and scared, I’m not even confident he knew it was a Pierce County deputy that was talking to him. I believe if Billy knew he was talking to an officer, he would have done everything the officer asked him to do.”
The group of about 50 marched through the downpour from Westlake Park to Pioneer Square with chants of “Mental Health is Not a Crime” and “Say His Name – Billy Langfitt.”