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COVID rise greater in Galveston County's Hispanic residents

GALVESTON

David Gomez sees it in his congregation.

Pastor at Galveston’s New Life Fellowship Church, Gomez normally holds three Sunday services a week. Two of those services are in Spanish for a congregation he estimates is 60 percent Hispanic.

Increasingly, Gomez has been talking to congregants who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or who have a family member or co-worker who has it, Gomez said.

The trend has been noticeable in the past month, he said.

Gomez had to close the church’s day care business because one of the parents was confirmed to have the virus, and he has posted messages to church members telling them to stay away from Sunday service if they know someone who’s sick.

The virus seems more present now, he said.

“It makes me feel that we have to be more cautious and that we have to create more awareness,” Gomez said. “Instead of being fearful, we have to educate people about what’s been going on.”

He’s not imagining things. Although the recent growth in COVID-19 cases has affected all ethnic groups in Galveston County, the increase in the county’s Hispanic population has been particularly dramatic.

Since Memorial Day, the number of cases identified among Hispanic residents has increased by 777 cases — 536 percent. The number of cases in white county residents has increased by 623 cases — a 172.1 percent increase.

Although Hispanic people make up 25 percent of the county’s population, they now account for 31 percent of the county’s cases. White people, who make up 57 percent of the county’s population, account for 33 percent of cases.

A POINT OF CONCERN

Increases in COVID-19 in Latino communities have been a point of concern for advocacy groups, which note that the side effects of the pandemic disproportionally affect Hispanic people.

A Pew Research poll in April found that 49 percent of Latino adults had to take pay cuts or lost jobs because of COVID-19, compared with 33 percent of all Americans. The same poll noted that Hispanic people in the United States also are generally younger than other demographics and work in lower-wage jobs — the same groups that are now seeing the biggest increases in cases.

Public health and government officials have characterized the latest growth in COVID-19 in various ways. Much talked about is the growth in cases among young people. People under the age of 40 now make up the majority of COVID-19-positive cases in the county.

There also has been an apparent increase in infections among people who work in the local service industry, which has led some local restaurants to close as their staffs are tested and facilities cleaned.

But local officials have been less vocal about the increase in cases among ethnic groups.

Dr. Philip Keiser, Galveston County’s local health authority, said Friday the health district wasn’t doing specific outreach about COVID-19 based on demographic groups and largely was focused on communicating with businesses about how to help slow the spread of the virus.

But Keiser did draw one connection about how infections in work places might affect certain communities in larger numbers.

“This is turning out to be a disease of families,” Keiser said

For instance, a Hispanic maintenance worker at a hotel in Galveston became infected with the virus, Keiser said. That person went home to a big birthday party over the weekend and infected his family.

“We’re seeing this sort of thing over and over again,” Keiser said.

LANGUAGE, RESOURCES BARRIERS

Still, the increase in cases among Hispanic people worries some who work regularly with the Hispanic community. Joe Compian, the co-chair of the civil rights committee for Galveston’s chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens, said he has noticed an apparent lack of knowledge, or caution, at some events when he was interacting with immigrants or people who don’t speak English.

At one recent food drive event, Compian had to urge people he described as undocumented immigrants not to hug him as they normally did, he said.

At the time of the interview, Compian hadn’t been aware of the increase in cases in Latino communities, but he wasn’t surprised, he said.

Generally, there are fewer health care and information resources for people who don’t speak English, Compian said. That’s not a problem unique to COVID-19, he said.

“I think we lack that in a lot of organizations in the county,” Compian said.

Compian hoped to organize a mass testing effort in Galveston through the Mexican consulate in Houston, he said. A similar testing drive on Sunday in Houston drew more than 1,000 people, he said.

Gomez agreed and said he had been adding health messages to his sermons. He has told his congregants that he has been tested for COVID-19 and that the procedure is safe and easy.

Still, he said there has been some resistance to being testing or taking time off time to quarantine.

“It’s a big financial issue,” Gomez said. “A lot of Hispanics are working in construction, hotels or restaurants. They don’t go to work, who’s going to pay the bills?”


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Coming Soon

Between furloughs and masking rules, it has been a tough spring and summer for hospitality workers trying to balance safety and work. How are they coping?


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Law enforcement in Galveston County feeling attacked over calls for defunding

GALVESTON COUNTY

Local and nationwide demands for changes in policing and police tactics have some local officers in Galveston County feeling attacked, unfairly lumped in with bad actors and on edge as they go to work every day, they said.

Some even argue it’s also making the already difficult job of recruiting officers worse.

The environment is making it tough to be in law enforcement, said Sgt. Justin Staton, president of the Kemah Peace Officer Association.

Staton feels a little betrayed by the call to “defund police,” he said, adding that many officers care deeply about the quality of their work.

Tensions have been high since the May 25 death of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed in Minneapolis while handcuffed and restrained by four police officers, including one who held his knee on Floyd’s neck.

“We’re not racists,” Staton said. “We’re not bigots. We’re out here to do a job to help people.”

Protestors say defunding isn’t about eliminating police departments or stripping agencies of all of their money. They say it’s time for the country to address systemic problems in policing in America and spend more on what communities across the nation need, such as housing and education.

Many officers agree they’d like to hear about the calls for change in their communities, but they worry that some people view entire departments, rather than individuals, negatively, they said.

Officers in Galveston aren’t necessarily afraid to go work right now, but they are a little more cautious, said Sgt. Robert Sanderson, president of the Galveston Municipal Police Association.

“I think everyone’s a little on edge,” Sanderson said.

Officers across the county defended protestors’ rights to express their opinions, they said.

But not all officers are bad and it’s sad when people characterize them as such, said detective Geovanny Martinez, secretary of the Galveston Municipal Police Association.

“It can be frustrating seeing the things that we have to see,” said Martinez, who has been an officer in Galveston for seven years.

Officers work long hours and encounter members of society most people don’t want to deal with, and they work with residents on what’s usually bad days for them, Martinez said.

It’s difficult to hear people think all officers are bad people, Martinez said.

Protests around Galveston County have drawn hundreds of people demanding police reform and an end to racial injustice.

THE SUPPORT

In response, some county residents have decided to show their support for local law enforcement.

An advertisement in a recent edition of The Daily News encourages Texans and county residents to support law enforcement.

Precinct 2 Constable Jimmy Fullen contributed money to the ad, although it was organized by local retired businessmen who declined to give their names for the article, he said.

“I think our country’s heading in the wrong direction,” Fullen said.

People need to be educated about what role the police have and how people should act during an encounter with officers, Fullen said.

But what happened to Floyd should not have happened, and there needs to be better supervision and continuing education for officers, Fullen said.

“That is just a few rogue officers that went way too far,” Fullen said.

It’s tough for officers around the country right now, with so much scrutiny and negative publicity, said Kevin Lawrence, executive director of the Texas Municipal Police Association.

Lawrence was an officer with the Seabrook Police Department before going to work for the association.

“Officers are scared,” Lawrence said. “They’re confused. In many cases they’re depressed.”

NOT ENOUGH RESOURCES

The outcry against police is exacerbating a recruiting problem that’s been going on for several years as police receive negative press, Lawrence said.

“We are hiring more and more former military,” Lawrence said. “We are having to untrain some of the battlefield tactics and retain the civilian tactics.”

What officers really need is more interaction with the community, Lawrence said.

“There is a lack of trust between the law enforcement officers and the communities they serve,” Lawrence said. “The way to solve that is to get the cops and the communities to get to know one another better.”

This is a good time for departments to review policies, even though lack of resources can make that a challenge, Lawrence said.

Recruitment is a factor, said Jason Ingram, associate professor of criminal justice at Sam Houston State University.

Nationwide, applications for police officers have been declining since 2010, Ingram said.

A 2019 study from the Police Executive Research Forum found 63 percent of responding departments said applications for sworn positions had decreased by 27 percent to 36 percent compared to five years ago.

If a department is low on officers, it limits efforts to increase community involvement or review of body camera footage, Ingram said.

“If you’re down officers, that limits what you can do, but that doesn’t necessarily negate the responsibility from working with the community,” Ingram said. “It just makes it more challenging.”

Policing happens at the local level, which also is where change would need to happen, Ingram said.

While many departments have use-of-force policies, there’s been a push for departments to diversify recruits, Ingram said.

‘IT CAN CHANGE WHO YOU ARE’

Officers are interested in the changes people suggest, Sanderson said.

“We don’t want anybody to be afraid or scared,” he said.

There are some bad apples in law enforcement and that’s frustrating to most officers, Martinez said.

“They might not come in as bad apples,” Martinez said, adding that the stresses of the job can put a lot of pressure on officers.

“It can change who you are,” Martinez said.

Galveston hired a full-time chaplain a few years ago, which made a difference for officers, Martinez said.

That’s why the backlash can hurt, he said.

“We do it because we want to serve and protect the citizens,” Martinez said.


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Family sues city of Galveston over fatal 2018 police shooting

GALVESTON

The family of an 18-year-old man shot and killed by police when he ran during a traffic stop is suing the city and the officer involved, asserting the victim’s civil rights were violated when police followed him despite the fact that he had done nothing illegal.

The filing Friday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas came a day after the attorney for the plaintiffs asked for a similar case to be dismissed in Galveston district court.

Galveston attorney Ellyn Clevenger had filed that lawsuit Thursday in the 10th District Court on behalf of the estate of Luis Fernando Argueta, Santos Argueta, Blanca Granado, Dora Argueta, Tomas Argueta and Jelldy Argueta against the city of Galveston and officer Derrick Jaradi, who shot and killed Luis Argueta,

Judge Kerry Neves on Monday signed off on an order of nonsuit, court records show.

Clevenger said she had decided to move the case to federal court after having filed in district court.

The lawsuit in federal court names the same plaintiffs and defendants and doesn’t specify what damages or other relief is being sought.

Representatives for the city declined to comment Monday about the lawsuit, saying they wouldn’t comment about pending litigation.

Jaradi fired the shots that killed Argueta in the 5300 block of Avenue L, officials said. Department officials have said Argueta had a gun when he was shot and killed.

But the civil lawsuit cites several witnesses who said they never saw Argueta with a gun, according to court filings.

Argueta in June 2018 borrowed his friend’s car to take his girlfriend out for the evening, the lawsuit asserts. The couple went to get fast food and then went to a convenience store in the 5000 block of Broadway Avenue to purchase some cigars.

As Argueta was preparing to leave the parking lot, he noticed a police car next to them that later stopped them, according to the filing.

Argueta was afraid of police and had posted before on social media about freedom from police abuse, the lawsuit asserts.

So, shortly after pulling over, Argueta got anxious and got out of the car and ran away, the lawsuit asserts.

Two officers, including Jaradi, chased after Argueta, the lawsuit asserts.

One witness said Argueta was running away when he was shot and never pointed a weapon at an officer, the lawsuit asserts. The officer only shouted at Argueta to stop before shooting him twice in the back, it states.

A second witness also said Argueta was running away when he was shot, the lawsuit asserts.

A third witness told police he saw what happened but was never interviewed, the lawsuit asserts.

Another witness said Argueta asked the officer why he shot and laid on the ground for 12 minutes after being shot, the lawsuit asserts. During that time, Argueta pleaded to go to the hospital.

The defendants have not yet responded to the filing in court, records show.


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BP sells petrochemicals business to Ineos

TEXAS CITY

Energy company BP announced Monday it would sell its petrochemical business, which includes its Texas City Chemicals plant, to British company Ineos for $5 billion, officials said.

The sale likely will end BP’s presence and name in Texas City, Mayor Matt Doyle said.

“Ineos is a good company; I’m excited about them owning that facility,” Doyle said. “It’s a progressive chemical company. They’ve had a big presence in Chocolate Bayou.”

BP in recent years has operated Texas City Chemicals, which employs hundreds in town, Doyle said. Those employees will now likely shift to become employees of Ineos, he said.

The Texas City Chemicals plant is a leading producer of metaxylene and paraxylene, chemicals that help produce everything from clothes and carpets to smartphones and surfboards, officials said.

The company completed an expansion in 2017 that increased its production of metaxylene by 10 percent, officials said.

Ineos will pay BP a $400 million deposit and another $3.6 billion when the deal is complete, officials said. Another $1 billion payment will come in deferred installments starting in 2021.

Representatives for BP said the move was part of their ongoing efforts to reinvent the company and said it would take extraordinary effort to grow that area of business.

“Strategically, the overlap with the rest of BP is limited and it would take considerable capital for us to grow these businesses,” CEO Bernard Looney said in a news release.

BP sold its Texas City refinery, the third-largest in the country, and other terminals to Marathon Petroleum Corp. for $2.5 billion in 2013.

The company’s Texas City Chemicals plant can produce more than 1.7 million tons of chemicals each year, according to the company.

BP will use the proceeds of the sale to strengthen its balance sheet, according to The Associated Press. It means the company has reached its targeted amount of business sales a year earlier than scheduled.

The transaction should close by the end of 2020, subject to regulatory and other approvals, officials said.