Category Archives: Beyond the Page

Carbon Monoxide Killed a Mother and Daughter. A Firefighter Was Reprimanded After a Delayed 911 Response.

Laila Milevski/ProPublica

The Houston Fire Department reprimanded a firefighter for misconduct after an investigation into a delayed 911 response to a case in which a mother and daughter died of carbon monoxide poisoning.

The department opened the investigation in July, following reporting from ProPublica, The Texas Tribune and NBC News, which revealed that first responders initially decided not to enter a Houston family’s home during the massive winter storm that hit Texas in February 2021, a decision that resulted in a couple and their two children being exposed to the lethal gas for an additional three hours.

The fire department has not disclosed details of the investigation. In a letter to the Texas attorney general fighting the release of records to the news organizations, Houston officials wrote that state law prevents the public disclosure of records dealing with misconduct of a firefighter or police officer. But the letter states that the “allegations of misconduct in this investigation were sustained and disciplinary action was taken against the firefighter.”

Continue reading at ProPublica.

U.S. Plans New Safety Rules to Crack Down on Carbon Monoxide Poisoning from Portable Generators

The U.S. agency responsible for protecting consumers announced this week that it intends to recommend new mandatory rules to make portable generators safer, saying manufacturers have not voluntarily done enough to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning deaths caused by their products.

The announcement, part of a 104-page staff report by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, is a key step toward regulating gas-powered generators, which can emit as much carbon monoxide as 450 cars and which kill an average of 80 people in the U.S. each year.

The commission’s move comes more than two decades after U.S. regulators identified the deadly risks posed by portable generators and two months after an NBC News, ProPublica and Texas Tribune investigation found that federal efforts to make portable generators safer have been stymied by a statutory process that empowers manufacturers to regulate themselves, resulting in limited safety upgrades and continued deaths.

Continue reading at ProPublica.

The Myth of the Latino Vote and What Newsrooms Must Learn From 2020

A Mexican American woman in El Paso, Texas, with a pin for President Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign. (Cengiz Yar/Getty Images)

In 2016, when it became clear that Donald Trump would become president, media outlets across the U.S. were blindsided by the results. They pledged to do better representing the larger communities that make up America. That included conservatives, those in rural areas (a complex group on its own) and, yes, Latinos.

Four years later, though Trump did not win reelection, former Vice President Joe Biden’s narrower margin of victory in spite of polls predicting a landslide have media outlets asking similar questions all over again. The increased percentage of Latino voters for Trump in particular caught many off guard. How could pollsters get it wrong again? And is the media, and a lack of diversity in newsrooms, part of the problem?

Last time around, a national publication made a show of announcing it was expanding its coverage teams and hiring people that brought those unique perspectives. I applied for a spot to cover immigration even though I knew that coming from a smaller newspaper, it would be a long shot. Still, if it was serious about diversifying the newsroom, I thought, I had a chance.

I’m a first-generation immigrant, born in Ciudad Juárez and raised across the border in El Paso, in a middle-class family. While my dad had been an engineer in Mexico, he became a life insurance salesman when we emigrated, then a truck driver, something he is still doing in his mid-60s. There’s no 401(k) for him, there’s no deep savings account or a fully paid mortgage.

When I applied for the position, I had been an immigration reporter for about a decade; I had experience writing about immigrants and refugees from a dozen countries. Spoiler alert, I didn’t get the job, neither did another person of color.

It didn’t have to be me, by any means, but we’ve made so little progress in diversifying our newsrooms. Newsrooms are a window into America. Journalists have the great power — and responsibility — to choose whose voices we represent and how. We are part, or should be, of the communities we cover.

Continue reading at ProPublica.

Meet five star reporters on the ProPublica/Texas Tribune investigative team

We’re thrilled to introduce five outstanding journalists we’ve hired as our inaugural reporters for the ProPublica/The Texas Tribune joint reporting unit.

Kiah Collier, Vianna Davila, Lomi Kriel, Jeremy Schwartz and Perla Trevizo will join me in this investigative effort, with their journalism powering the platforms of both news organizations.

This is a dream team of reporters.

They are smart, authentic, fearless truth-tellers, with a deep love and understanding of Texas. I could not be prouder than to stand alongside Kiah, Vianna, Lomi, Jeremy and Perla on this journey.

It’s been a fun start since I joined the team. I got to read the applications of 139 qualified journalists who raised their hands to join our crew. That in itself has been encouraging. Working with ProPublica’s Charlie Ornstein and The Texas Tribune’s Ayan Mittra, we thoughtfully chose our five accomplished journalists — who view their work as a public trust.

So a word of warning: If you are doing bad things in Texas, well, you’ll be hearing from us.

Read more at The Texas Tribune.

The El Paso I know

Samantha Ordaz, 20, embraces her boyfriend César Antonio Pacheco, 24, during an anti-violence rally Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019, in El Paso, a day after a shooting that killed 20 people. Both born in El Paso, but parents and grandparents migrated to the United States. Marie De Jesús/Houston Chronicle

Growing up in El Paso meant taking certain things for granted, like speaking two languages and living in two cultures. It was simply a way of life.

My grandfather, born to a mining family in New Mexico, at some point returned to Mexico, where he grew up, got married and had my mother (along with nine other children).

I was born across the border in Juárez. When I was 8, my father moved us al otro lado to El Paso in search of better opportunities.

My husband was born in El Paso but raised in Juárez, learning English by listening to oldies and watching cartoons.

My family’s story is not unique. Most of us straddle the border, not feeling foreign on either side.

To us, it is not Juárez and El Paso — it’s one big city where people cross from one side to the other to shop or eat out. Where families like my own keep a home in each place. The cities are intertwined, and so are the people. And that makes us better; it makes us stronger.

People in El Paso switch from English to Spanish, sometimes in the same sentence; we can have a carne asada (grilled meat) one day and cook hot dogs the next. Families celebrate the Fourth of July and el 16 de septiembre, Mexico’s independence day. Neither makes you less American or less Mexican.

As I read the four pages of the so-called manifesto posted by the accused El Paso shooter, I realized that the seamless blending of two cultures and ethnicities that El Paso represents was the very quality that he feared the most. The “Hispanic invasion of Texas,” as he called it.

He was against race mixing, he said, and cultural diversity. His solution was the physical separation of the races, which would in his view, “improve social unity by granting each race self-determination within their respective territory(s).”

He was afraid of people like me. Brown. He recoiled from a connection that my community embraced.

I found this jarring. Spending most of my childhood and teenage years in El Paso meant seeing others who looked like me, sounded like me. Judges. Teachers. Doctors. I was not the “other.”

It wasn’t until I moved to Tennessee in 2007 that I realized I was actually seen as a foreigner. It was the first time people questioned whether I belonged. The first time I was told to go back to where I came from.

In El Paso we live in a sort of bubble where we are generally shielded from racism and discrimination.

This doesn’t mean El Pasoans don’t have their own issues with immigration. I’ve heard plenty of conversations — including in my family’s kitchen — about Central Americans arriving and how Juárez has its own problems and how local governments should help those in need first, instead of people coming from elsewhere. About how their numbers are overwhelming the border cities. About how you don’t know who they are and what their intentions might be.

And of course, El Paso could benefit from better-paying jobs, better school equity, more voter participation and engagement.

Somehow, El Paso continues to have that small-community feel in an ever-sprawling city. It’s still the place where my parents can leave the house without locking the door and not worry about it (even though I continue to advise against it). Where you run into people you know when you’re out shopping — including at Walmart. Where people show up for each other, as we’ve seen these last few days.

When I talked to my Dad Sunday, he said he had to go to Walmart later that day.

Do you feel weird about it? I asked him in Spanish.

You can’t live in fear, he responded. Life must go on.

And if more of Texas becomes like El Paso, I say there’s nothing to be afraid of. Quite the opposite: We should embrace it.