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Longview, Gregg County officials say no plans to mandate masks to curb COVID-19 spread

Local officials who have been encouraging people to wear masks to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 don’t appear ready to require them unlike in some other Texas counties.

Bexar and Hidalgo counties this week adopted rules that mandate businesses require employees and customers to wear masks when social distancing isn’t possible, according to the Texas Tribune. The move includes the threat of fines for businesses that don’t comply — which avoids a June 3 executive order from Gov. Greg Abbott that prohibits local governments from adopting fines and criminal penalties for residents who don’t wear masks in public.

Abbott’s office has expressed approval for the counties’ actions, with Abbott spokesman John Wittman telling the Tribune, “Our office urges officials and the public to adopt and follow the health protocols for businesses established by doctors....” Abbott also told television station KWTX that “local governments can require stores and business to require masks. That’s what was authorized in my plan,” the Tribune reported.

Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt hadn’t heard of the other counties’ actions when the News-Journal contacted him Wednesday afternoon. He said he would study their actions more, but at this time, the county would continue to encourage people to wear face masks in close quarters without taking any steps for businesses to require them of employees and customers.

He said some businesses already are requiring masks, but enforcement of such an order would be difficult. It’s an issue of personal responsibility, he said.

“If you choose not to (wear a mask), you’re endangering yourself and everyone around you,” he said.

The question of when to wear a mask was briefly highlighted during Monday’s Gregg County Commissioners Court meeting. Two of the five commissioners were wearing masks — Pct. 2 Commission Darryl Primo and Pct. 1 Commissioner Ronnie McKinney, but the commissioners had spread out more than they had in meetings before COVID-19 to achieve the suggested 6 feet of distance.

None of the representatives of the Northeast Texas Regional Mobility Authority wore masks while they were at Monday’s meeting to present a symbolic contribution of money that will go toward a city of Longview street project. Gregg County Health Department Administrator A.J. Harris also wasn’t wearing a mask.

During the meeting, Primo asked Harris to clarify whether it’s the health department’s position that people should wear masks and practice social distancing, to which Harris responded it is.

Harris said Wednesday that he didn’t wear a mask to the meeting because county officials were practicing social distancing. He said the “ideal” practice suggested by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control is for people to do both.

Longview Mayor Andy Mack also said he has no intention of requiring people to wear masks, although he said he doesn’t go places where people aren’t wearing masks, and he asks people to wear one around him.

It’s a personal choice and an issue of personal responsibility, he said. If the public wants businesses to require masks, they can make those desires known through choosing to patronize businesses that do require them.

“I’m not at this point going to require a business to do something that I cannot enforce, but I hope people wear (masks) because I think it’s important. I think it’s extremely important,” Mack said, adding that requiring it would be as unenforceable as it was when social distancing was mandated.

Primo said a decision to require masks would need to be data driven, if Gregg County were seeing a spike in cases. He also said the local health department should lead an education campaign to explain the need for masks to the public.

Gregg County Health Authority Dr. Lewis Browne said he also isn’t ready to take similar steps to require masks. It would be more enforceable, he said, but he believes it also would make “commerce less likely to rebound.”

He would like to see more people voluntarily wearing masks in public.

“I keep saying, unfortunately, people are going to do what they want to,” he said.


George Floyd killing energizes a new generation in fight against racism in East Texas

Corneilius Shackelford Sr. used to shy away from debates about racism. But when his athletic training work dried up as coronavirus restrictions shut down Texas businesses, he had time to read about the latest incidents of police brutality against black people.

Shackelford, who is black and grew up in Tyler, began learning more about the virulent strain of racism and violence that runs through East Texas history, from 19th century lynchings up to the present day.

Although he’s only 32 years old, Shackelford learned there’s been a Ku Klux Klan rally in Tyler in his lifetime — in 1992, when about 30 Klan members from Waco showed up on the town square, met by about 300 protesters.

In the last few weeks, Shackelford helped create Fight for Justice East Texas, which has been organizing protests in Tyler in the wake of the death of George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis killed when a white police officer kneeled on his neck for almost nine minutes. The group’s events have drawn 100 to 300 people of all races, most between the ages of 18 and 31.

And Shackelford started to think about how the area’s history connects to his more recent experiences as a black man in Texas: the time a store clerk called the police on him because she thought he looked like a criminal, the many times police have searched his vehicle, the fact that the local school is still named after Confederate leader Robert E. Lee.

“I had to pick my head up from up under the covers. Has this been going on the whole time, and I’ve been not getting involved and haven’t been aware?” Shackelford said.

As protests against police brutality spread beyond Texas’ most populous cities into smaller, conservative towns and national support for the Black Lives Matter movement surges, the new energy in the fight for racial justice has reached East Texas — long seen as a hotbed of white supremacist activity and the venue of some of the state’s most brutal lynchings of black people.

Over the last few weeks, young, often inexperienced organizers like Shackelford in conservative cities and towns like Tyler, Lufkin and Vidor have gathered dozens to hundreds of demonstrators in support of a movement that had previously been associated with larger, more liberal regions of the state.

This wave of organizers trends young, many in their teens, 20s and 30s. Often, they are new to organizing or activism. They’re drawing crowds that are racially diverse, including white and non-black people of color. The new blood is cause for tentative hope for older black activists in Tyler and other towns, many who have long been pushing their city leaders to address major disparities between white and black communities.

“I pray that it’s more than just a march for the moment. I’m praying that it’s going to have an impact for eternity,” said Ralph Caraway, 66, a pastor in Tyler and a former member of the City Council. “My generation has had their opportunity to decide what the cause is going to look like.”

Historians tabulating the lynchings and other murders of black Texans in the 20th century estimate many of them happened in East Texas. The first half of the last century was punctuated by riots. White people burned down sections of their towns where black people resided and owned businesses and murdered black people without consequence. The Klan and other white supremacist groups have kept strong roots in this part of the state since the Civil War, organizing events in East Texas as recently as a couple of years ago. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, at least two Klan-related groups were active in East Texas in 2019.

Those who know even a little of the region’s history and reputations have been shocked by the number and size of protests organized not just in a relative hub like Tyler but in the smaller towns throughout East Texas, each with its own history of injustice.

About 100 people showed up to protest in Jasper, which became synonymous with racial hate in 1998 when three white men tied James Byrd Jr., a black man, to the back of a pickup truck and violently dragged him to death. Two of the men have since been executed, and the third is serving a life sentence.

Jaylen Weatherred, who is black and a Lufkin native, was going to organize a protest there in early June before he saw someone had beat him to the punch. He was surprised to see that most protesters appeared to be white, not black, and the group was small, unlike the protest he had driven to in Houston a couple of days before. “In Lufkin, people were a little scared to speak loudly, to chant loudly,” he said. “We have to start somewhere.”

When flyers circulated earlier this month advertising a Black Lives Matter rally in Vidor, a majority-white city near the Louisiana border that used to disallow blacks after dark, many thought it was a joke or a trap. But organizers Maddy Malone, who is white, and Yalakesen Baaheth, who is black, said they wanted the “peace march” to show that Vidor has changed and is home to people of color as well as white people who are against racism.

Baaheth, who is 25, used to live in Beaumont, about 20 minutes away from Vidor. When her parents drove her to sleepovers at friends’ homes in Vidor, they made sure not to stop anywhere else on the way.

She hadn’t organized before and is hoping more people will start talking about racism in the aftermath of the march. “There’s much more that can be done with discussion than with angry actions,” she said.

Unlike in some of the smaller East Texas towns, Tyler activists have been consistently protesting since Floyd’s death, and they have no plans of stopping.

When Amori Mitchell and other activists announced that demonstrators would march from downtown to the southern, whiter part of Tyler in the days after Floyd’s death, they received threats from white supremacists. Mitchell, who is black, took that as a sign that not much had changed in racially segregated Tyler.

According to organizers and Tyler police, at least two men threateningly drove their car toward protesters and local media but did not injure anyone.

Shackelford and Mitchell were among the organizers who met with city leaders earlier this month to lay out their agenda for how to turn the demonstrations into action. “That meant a lot to us to have them come out and say they’re still pushing the issue,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell, who is 31, wonders whether her young nieces and nephews will have a different experience than she did growing up in Tyler. They’re confused about why their older family members caution them against wearing hoodies outside, not yet aware of the potentially deadly ramifications of racism.

And Mitchell thinks about her mother, Wilma Daniel, who attended segregated schools in a nearby town until fifth grade and lived in Texas when black people were forced to use different bathrooms and water fountains than white people. Daniel has been watching hundreds of people of all races show up to regular protests in Tyler this month and praying it means something will really change this time.

“It’s enough of the same thing over and over. How many different times and ways do I have to see someone die for it to be enough?” she said. “We have to stay tired of being treated differently because of who we are, but we can’t get tired of using our voices to make a change for the better.”

“George Floyd killing energizes a new generation in fight against racism in East Texas” was first published at https://www.texastribune.org/2020/06/17/east-texas-george-floyd-killing-energizes-new-generation-fight-racism/ by The Texas Tribune. The Texas Tribune is proud to celebrate 10 years of exceptional journalism for an exceptional state.


Local
Longview to celebrate Juneteenth with prayer vigil, solidarity march

Juneteenth celebrations will take place in Longview and other cities this weekend, commemorating the day — June 19 — in 1865 when news reached Texas that President Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

Activities begin Friday with a Juneteenth Community Celebration at Heritage Plaza in downtown Longview. The event, hosted by Longview resident Yasmine Allen, will begin at 7 p.m.

“I saw there wasn’t anything happening the day of Juneteenth, so I just put it all together,” said Allen, a 2013 graduate of Tatum High School.

The event will include a DJ and food trucks.

“We’ll also be helping people register to vote,” Allen said. “I’m just trying to show some support. In spite of everything that’s going on right now, I just felt like we needed something uplifting and encouraging.”

This year’s celebration of freedom comes as the nation is gripped by protests against police brutality and racism after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

A candlelight vigil during Friday’s event hits close to home for Allen.

“At 8:46, we’re going to do a candlelight vigil to honor those who have lost their lives,” Allen said. “It’s a little bit more personal to me because my brother, Calin Roquemore, lost his life. He was shot Feb. 13 and died on Valentine’s Day in 2016.”

Roquemore was shot in the back by a Department of Public Safety trooper during a foot chase on Texas 149 near Beckville. Dashcam video captured both the car chase and a foot chase before the shooting.

During the June 11 Longview City Council meeting, District 3 Councilman Wray Wade announced Saturday’s Juneteenth 2020 Celebration, which will include a solidarity march beginning at 8:30 a.m.

“The city of Longview will have a Juneteenth parade and celebration at Broughton Park,” Wade said. “Recognizing what’s going on in our country right now, the death of George Floyd, which has affected us here locally and nationally in so many ways, we are conducting a solidarity march.”

The march will begin at Longview’s Foster Middle School, 1504 S. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. Saturday’s celebration also will include live entertainment and local vendors.

“I am inviting everyone out to take part in it and also to take part in Juneteenth, which is a really monumental event for African Americans throughout the country, but mainly here in the state of Texas,” Wade said. “We feel that Longview is the pride of that celebration.”

Other East Texas cities also have scheduled events in observance of Juneteenth.

A protest walk is scheduled Friday in downtown Marshall.

No organization has taken credit for the protest, which is scheduled for 5 to 8 p.m., starting at the Harrison County Courthouse. A walk will take place from the square to the basketball courts, where food and drinks will be provided to protesters.

In addition, though COVID-19 canceled the annual Marshall-Harrison County Juneteenth parade this year, the planning committee has scheduled a two-day observance titled “Juneteenth with the Ancestors.”

A group photo is planned at 6:30 p.m. Thursday during a visit to the historical Powder Mill Cemetery. Organizers ask visitors to wear face masks.

On Friday, the observance goes virtual. Local residents are asked to share historical pictures with short descriptions, including the name of the family or organization, occasion and date, if known, to be posted on the Juneteenth Marshall-Harrison County TX Facebook page. To submit a photo, email Alma Ravenell at aravenell@hotmail.com or Myra Smith Frye at myrasfrye@gmail.com with the subject line of “Juneteenth 2020.” Pictures will be uploaded through Saturday.


Local
Jefferson police chief apologizes for social media posts, plans sensitivity training

JEFFERSON — Jefferson’s new Police Chief Jason Carroll has apologized for social media posts he shared on his Facebook page recently and has pledged to take sensitivity training after residents complained during the City Council meeting Tuesday.

Carroll, who was appointed to the top spot after former Police Chief Gary Amburn retired earlier this year, posted what he called “insensitive” memes and photos on his personal Facebook page recently, eventually removing the posts.

Residents at Tuesday’s Jefferson City Council meeting criticized Carroll’s posts, though the issue was not on the council’s agenda for official review.

Some of Carroll’s supporters, including Amburn, also spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting to voice support for the new chief’s character.

Shyger Williams, however, did not speak in support of the chief.

“I’ve been through many things as a young adult, but to see our town come to what it has been is disgusting to me,” Williams said to the council. “Racism has always been something that has divided this town, since I was a baby. As you can see on social media, there’s been several posts made from our new chief of police of Jefferson, and I feel that people are taking his posts lightly. Facebook has been one of his platforms.”

She said she thought Carroll’s actions reflected poorly on the department.

“He has exercised his freedom of speech, and he’s doing that like any other individual, but he is the face of our department here in town,” she said. “That does not make the department look good. I feel like he showed his colors. The chief must have high ethical standards, because the community looks to the chief in regards of instances of racism or any type of criminal activity that takes place within our community. Right now, I feel like we cannot trust him at all and then that goes on to the ones below him. We have really good officers here in town, but the community cannot turn to anybody right now because they don’t trust anybody.”

Williams said she feels Carroll should be fired for his posts.

“I feel he should not hold his place in office, and that’s the end of it,” Williams said.

Carroll’s father, Gary Carroll, spoke on his son’s character.

“Jason grew up in the military with me, as a child, all over the world,” Gary Carroll said. “He didn’t see colors; he saw people. Jason is not a prejudiced person; he believes everybody is equal, regardless of your color. I want everybody to understand that. He grew up that way, and he is still that way today.”

Carroll himself issued a lengthy apology and offered an outline of actions he is taking to remedy the issue.

“I’d like to take a minute of your time in reading this to, first, sincerely apologize; second, share my remorse and empathy; and, third, tell you what is being done to make amends,” Carroll wrote in a statement. “First, let me make it clear that I am deeply sorry for my actions and thereafter over the insensitive Facebook post I made.

“I don’t like myself for acting in such an insensitive manner and in seeing that I was reactive and not being proactive in my community. I know from my job, which trained me to see and deal with things in a desensitized nature, that there can be elements of harsh and judgmental value in this world, but I do not want that — for this community that we call ‘home.’ With that said, I again apologize for my actions and ask you for your forgiveness.”

Next, Carroll outlined his plan of action.

“I want you all to know that I am listening,” he wrote. “Also, I am human, and as human, I make mistakes. But what makes us so great as people and a community is that I, along with you, can learn from my mistakes. And with this mistaken insensitivity, I along with you can change it into a positive learning experience. ... We can agree that, words of apologetic nature mean very little when not followed up with action. Thus, I’d like to share with you that this, while a regrettable mistake, is a lesson we can all learn from and, as such, I am taking action by enrolling in a cultural sensitivity training class. This is needed at this time to reflect on my actions and my cultural awareness.”

Carroll said he thought the training will teach both him and the community.

“This step in the right directions will also demonstrate that this community is unlike other places in the nation in that we are proactive, protective and join together in times of tribulation to take quick action,” he wrote. “With this training, I and Jefferson as a whole will have a broader understanding and comprehension of the issues we face and the feelings involved, which are so intertwined in this unfortunate matter.”

Carroll also said Tuesday he no longer has a Facebook account.


Correction

A story on Page 1A Wednesday about the reopening of Longview World of Wonders children’s museum contained incorrect times of operation. The facility is open 2 to 4 p.m. Thursday and Sunday and 10 a.m. to noon, 2 to 4 p.m. and 4 to 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday.