Willie R. Tubbs, FISM News
The Biden Justice Department has announced it is seeking to ascertain if the City of Houston, a Democrat-dominated city, violated the civil rights of racial minority residents by failing to curtail illegal dumping in predominantly African American and Latino neighborhoods.
Friday, Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke said the department had launched an “environmental justice investigation” into Houston after receiving a complaint from Lone Star Legal Aid, a non-profit organization that provides free legal services to 72 Texas and four Arkansas counties.
“Data compiled by the City shows that a high concentration of the illegal dumping occurring within Houston takes place in communities of color,” Clarke said in prepared remarks. “Historically, Houston has also placed a high concentration of its municipally-owned and operated dumpsites and solid waste facilities within [predominantly] Black and Latino communities.”
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, who is both African American and a Democrat, did not take the news well; he released a lengthy rebuttal to what he deemed a “surprise and unwarranted announcement.”
“This morning, the City of Houston was stunned and disappointed to learn about the investigation into illegal dumping by third parties launched by the U.S. Department of Justice,” Turner said. “Despite the DOJ’s pronouncements, my office received no advanced notice. This investigation is absurd, baseless, and without merit.”
Although the investigation has technically only just begun, Clarke spoke as though her department had already begun leaning toward agreeing with Lone Star Legal Aid and hinted that the city – specifically Houston’s Department of Neighborhoods, Police Department, Solid Waste Management Department, and 311 system – had not done enough to slow the rate of illegal dumping.
“For decades, environmental justice advocates have brought attention to the disproportionate burden faced specifically by communities of color in Houston from illegal dumping,” Clarke said. “Through this investigation, we will follow the facts and if necessary, work to institute the reforms necessary to address these long-standing concerns.”
Turner agreed that illegal dumping was a problem but emphatically disagreed with the suggestion his city had failed in its duty to communities in which racial minorities represented the majority of residents.
“The City of Houston prioritizes and utilizes several mechanisms to combat illegal dumping by third parties, a practice that we agree disproportionately plagues Black and Brown communities in Houston and many municipalities throughout the country,” Turner said. “The City has spent millions and continues to spend millions of dollars in bulk waste collection as well as addressing illegal dumping caused by third-parties.”
Turner later added, “This DOJ investigation is a slap in the face to the city and the many people who diligently work to address illegal dumping daily and prevent environmental injustice.”
Clarke did not offer a timeline for how speedily the investigation will progress but indicated its existence was part of a larger commitment to environmental justice being pursued by the Justice Department.
By Texas standards, Houston is a stronghold for Democrats. More than 55% of voters identify with the party and Democratic candidates have won every mayor’s race dating to 1982.