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Port Arthur Mayor Thurman Bartie calls for reduction in gun violence

Mayor Thurman Bartie on Friday addressed the public from City Hall to address gun violence.

Dressed in orange as it is synonymous with gun safety as it is the color hunters wear for visibility, Bartie proclaimed June 4 as National Gun Violence Awareness Day in Port Arthur.

“We renew our commitment to reduce gun violence and pledge to do all we can to keep firearms out of the wrong hands, and encourage responsible gun ownership to help keep our children safe,” he said, reading from the proclamation.

The mayor addressed two fatal shootings that have occurred in Port Arthur this year, saying to his knowledge both are under investigation.

“But this is what we need, if you have any information about those two homicides, please come forward,” Bartie said. “You know what you can do if  you don’t want to talk to the police, holler at me. I’m your real mayor. I’ll keep your name out of it.”

The city’s first homicide of 2021 occurred May 7, with the second following 20 days later.

The first homicide of 2020 was in January.

Bartie acknowledged that the timeline statistically points to a decline in gun-related deaths, but he hopes the short time between them doesn’t indicate an upcoming trend.

The mayor pleaded to residents to be responsible gun owners.

“If you get into an (altercation) with an individual, please don’t think the only way to solve it is to shoot them,” he said. “Because if I shoot you, they catch me, I’m gone, you’re gone. We lose two lives — one is buried, one is incarcerated.”

Responsible gun ownership is also addressed by keeping firearms in a secure place where children cannot access them, and locking vehicles if a gun is left inside.

“First of all, if you have a firearm in the car, you should be responsible enough to know you need to lock the car every time you get out of it,” he said.

Vaccine efforts

Bartie, surrounded by the Port Arthur Health Department’s mobile strike team members, also spoke on National Month of Action by asking residents to get COVID vaccines.

“The challenge here in Port Arthur and around this nation is to reach 70 percent of all citizens (vaccinated) by the 4th of July,” he said. “Our county, Jefferson, has a fully vaccinated rate of 32 percent, which leads me to theorize our city’s rate is similar.”

Bartie called for all residents to get the shot.

“If you ask me personally am I pleased? No. Because we’re at 32 percent or 34 percent or 35 percent — no, I’m not pleased with that because that means that a lot of folks I’m around have (COVID),” he said.

Health Director Judith Smith said the largest amount of local vaccine hesitancy has been in the 20-30 age group.

“They are coming in,” she said, “but even as they come in, they are letting us know that they have waited. They’re a little bit more hesitant.”

Still Smith said the department knows vaccines are helping with the pandemic as the number of reported cases has declined.

“I think we’re on the right path,” she said. “Where back in early March, April and most of 2020 we were reporting a number of cases daily, we are now reporting about 17 a week.”

The mobile strike team, which started bringing vaccines to bed-bound individuals in Mid and South counties last week, has vaccinated 21 patients to date.