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Justice Dept. Reaches Cleanup Deal With Houston After Civil Rights Inquiry

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Justice Dept. Reaches Cleanup Deal With Houston After Civil Rights Inquiry

The Justice Department has reached an agreement with the City of Houston to improve trash removal and environmental monitoring after an investigation into the widespread dumping of garbage, including human bodies, in predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods.

The pact, announced on Tuesday, was the result of a yearlong inquiry by the department’s civil rights division into dozens of complaints from residents. It includes a commitment by Mayor Sylvester Turner to fund cleanup projects, under the supervision of federal officials for three years.

The agreement, which followed weeks of negotiation between department officials and municipal leaders in Houston, is part of the Biden administration’s larger environmental justice agenda, which seeks to redress the disproportional impact of waste, air and water pollution on communities of color around the country.

“No one should have to live next to discarded tires, bags of trash, rotting carcasses, infected soils and contaminated groundwater, all caused by illegal dumping,” Alamdar S. Hamdani, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Texas, said on Tuesday during a news conference in Houston.

“For too long now, Houston’s underserved and low-income communities have had to bear the health burdens of the inaction and misdeeds of others,” he said.

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Under the agreement, the city said it would provide additional data and information about its efforts to address illegal dumping. Local officials have also vowed to bolster enforcement actions against industrial and commercial polluters in a city whose notoriously lax zoning laws have resulted in the intermingling of industrial sites and residential neighborhoods.

The deal also requires Houston to develop an online “neighborhood equity dashboard” to analyze whether officials are fulfilling their commitments, which department officials hope will be a model for subsequent similar agreements.

The Justice Department opened a wide-ranging investigation last July after a local legal aid group lodged a federal civil rights complaint on behalf of Houston residents accusing the city of discriminating against residents of a neighborhood in the northeast, Trinity/Houston Gardens.

The heaps of household garbage, industrial waste and other items tossed into low-income neighborhoods in recent years included discarded furniture, mattresses, tires, medical waste, trash, dead bodies and vandalized A.T.M.s, Justice Department officials said at the time.

Lawyers with the legal aid group, Lone Star Legal Aid, spent months collecting complaints from people who called Houston’s 311 system to report illegal dumping and other environmental violations only to have their problems ignored.

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At the time, Mr. Turner, a Democrat, blasted the department’s decision to open the investigation as “absurd, baseless and without merit.”

On Tuesday, Mr. Turner applauded the deal, but said it was an extension of initiatives his administration had already undertaken.

He ticked off a list of recent improvements under a plan he unveiled in March, saying the city had cut response times to illegal dumping complaints from 49 days to 11 days over the past year. It had also doubled the deployment of law enforcement officers to punish polluters, which has increased the total number of fines imposed from around 50 to more than 200 during the same period, he added.

“Despite all we have done and we continue to do, it was a little deflating,” Mr. Turner, who has been in office since 2016, said of the Justice Department’s decision to investigate the city.

Federal officials said they were more interested in improving conditions than denouncing the failures of the past.

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Often, the department’s civil rights division releases investigative findings to the public before announcing voluntary agreements, or court-approved consent decrees, with the local authorities.

In this case, Kristen Clarke, the head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, told reporters that the government had “suspended its investigation” into the city’s actions to focus “on remedying the problem.”

While the agreement alluded to the city’s troubled past, it did not include detailed investigative findings, or a deeper examination into the origins of some of its most chronic and consequential problems, including historic patterns of discrimination that led to the construction of 11 of 13 garbage incinerators in Houston’s Black and brown neighborhoods.

That is the same approach the department adopted in April, when officials announced a similar agreement — but no investigative report — after examining claims that state and local officials discriminated against Black residents in impoverished Lowndes County, Ala., by failing to adequately repair and maintain wastewater and sewage systems.

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Trump demands Biden 'drug test,' rips 'radical' RFK Jr. in bid to 'rebellious bunch' at NRA

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Trump demands Biden 'drug test,' rips 'radical' RFK Jr. in bid to 'rebellious bunch' at NRA

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Former President Trump fired up supporters at the National Rifle Association’s Annual Meeting in Texas on Saturday, calling for President Biden to take a “drug test,” putting “radical” Robert F. Kennedy Jr. on blast and encouraging gun enthusiasts to get out and vote.

The crowd at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas roared as Trump received the NRA’s endorsement before he took the stage.

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Trump thanked the “great patriots” for the endorsements, but reprimanded the “rebellious bunch” for not voting.

“But one thing I’ll say, and I say it as friends, we’ve got to get gun owners to vote because you know what? I don’t know what it is. Perhaps it’s a form of rebellion because you’re a rebellious people, aren’t you?,” Trump said. “But gun owners don’t vote. What is that all about?”

“If gun owners would vote, we would swamp them at levels that nobody’s ever seen before,” he said. “So, I think you’re a rebellious bunch. So let’s be rebellious and vote this time.”

BIDEN CAMPAIGN HIGH ON DOJ’S MARIJUANA SHIFT, ‘SMOKES’ TRUMP FOR INACTION DURING HIS TERM

Former President Donald Trump speaks during the NRA ILA Leadership Forum at the National Rifle Association (NRA) Annual Meeting & Exhibits at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, Saturday, in Dallas. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks

The NRA endorsed former President Trump on Saturday. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

‘Radical’ RFK Jr.

Trump turned his attention to Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr., telling NRA-supporters to not “waste your vote” and that he is a part of the “radical left.”

“RFK, Jr. — I call him Junior by the way — he’s radical left. Don’t think about it. Don’t waste your vote,” Trump said. “We need a conservative person with common sense. This guy is radical left who destroyed New York.”

“Actually, he’s a disaster. He reminds you of this fly that’s driving me crazy up here,” said Trump, who swatted at a fly that flitted around the stage. “This fly is brutal. I don’t like flies!”

Trump RFK

Former President Donald Trump blasted Robert F. Kennedy Jr. as a “disaster” and part of the “radical left.” (Getty Images)

Trump said that RFK Jr. had “no policy for anything.”

“But RFK Jr. calls you a terrorist group. You know, he calls you a terrorist group,” Trump said. “[You] can’t vote for him. You can’t. You know, somebody said, well, they like his policy on vaccines the other day. He said, no, no, he’ll go for the vaccine. He’s nice. He’s got no policy or anything. He’s radical left. He always has been.”

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“We can’t waste any votes,” he added. “We have to make sure we win.”

U.S. President Joe Biden

Former President Trump said that President Biden was as “high as a kite” during his State of the Union address in March. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

‘High as a kite’

The Republican Party’s presumptive presidential nominee set his sights on President Biden, beginning with the usual jabs at Biden’s cognitive ability, and saying that Biden was as “high as a kite” during his State of the Union address in March. 

WARNING SIGNS FOR TRUMP, BIDEN, AS THEY CAREEN TOWARD DEBATES 

“Now, he did that State of the Union the other day. He was high as a kite,” Trump said. “So, I think we should go for drug tests on the debate. Yeah, we’re going to call for drug tests.”

Trump

Former President Trump speaks during the NRA ILA Leadership Forum at the National Rifle Association (NRA) Annual Meeting in Dallas on Saturday. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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Earlier Saturday, Trump’s campaign and the Republican National Committee announced the creation of a new “Gun Owners for Trump” coalition that includes gun rights activists and individuals in the firearms’ industry.

Get the latest updates from the 2024 campaign trail, exclusive interviews and more at our Fox News Digital election hub.

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South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, under fire for shooting dog, describes making 'hard decisions' at California GOP gathering

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South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, under fire for shooting dog, describes making 'hard decisions' at California GOP gathering

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, once considered a potential 2024 running mate for former President Trump, received a warm reception at a gathering of California Republicans on Saturday just weeks after facing a harsh public backlash after she admitted killing her “untrainable” hunting dog.

Noem, a champion of gun rights, warned of the perils facing the nation and her conservative leadership in the rural state, including her refusal to impose government shutdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have an election year coming up here in 2024 where I don’t think it’s about Republicans and Democrats anymore. I don’t think it’s about political parties,” Noem told more than 200 people at a luncheon at the California Republican Party convention in Burlingame, just south of San Francisco. “I think it is about people who love America and people who are trying to destroy it.”

She did not directly mention the incident with her dog that she wrote about in her book, “No Going Back: The Truth on What’s Wrong With Politics and How We Move America Forward,” which came out this month.

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But Noem alluded to the controversy over her decision to kill a 14-month-old wire-haired pointer named Cricket in a gravel pit because it was a poor hunting dog and killed some farm chickens.

“Listen, I have a book that has come out. You may have heard a little bit about it,” Noem said to laughter. “I guarantee you if you listen to the media, you have not heard the truth. So I would recommend you read it.”

Lunch attendees received a copy of the book as part of their ticket purchase; Noem signed copies and posed for selfies after her remarks. Tickets ranged from $300 to $575 with the top price including an invitation to a reception with Noem.

The tale of Cricket was the talk of many convention attendees.

“We find out Gov. Kristi Noem’s coming to keynote our convention and everybody’s very excited. She’s dynamic, engaging, probably on the VP shortlist,” said a delegate from Contra Costa County, who requested anonymity because of potential scorn if he publicly discussed the incident. “And four days later, we find out the dog-killing story. And everybody’s like, ‘Uhhh?’ And even Trump’s not a dog guy, but even he was like, ‘She had a rough week.’”

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South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem speaks at the California Republican Party Spring Convention on Saturday in Burlingame, Calif.

(Loren Elliot / For The Times)

He added that the upheaval was indicative of the hard luck of California Republicans.

Noem focused her remarks on her leadership of South Dakota, particularly during the pandemic, as well as her decision to send the state’s National Guard to the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas to stem the influx of immigrants entering the country without authorization. She repeated warnings about drug cartels using Native American tribal lands in her state to commit crimes, remarks that have led some tribes to ban Noem from their reservations.

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“The cartels have moved into the middle of our country. They have set up on my tribal reservations and they were proliferating their drug trafficking, their human trafficking, they’re raping our children and our women right in South Dakota, and they’re doing it protected by the federal government because the federal government refuses to bring law and order to those communities and keep people safe,” Noem said.

She said she has no jurisdiction since the tribal lands are a sovereign government and blamed President Biden for failing to intervene.

Noem, who had reportedly been on Trump’s shortlist of potential running mates but dropped off before the book controversy, also praised the former president as a genuine American, unlike most politicians.

“What did Donald Trump do when he announced that he was going to run for president? The guy comes down a golden escalator,” she said. “I was shocked by it. I was like, ‘This is gonna be the worst campaign plan I’ve ever seen in my entire life.’”

After quipping that her state has two escalators in it and that most South Dakotans couldn’t relate to an escalator, Noem argued that the moment showed Trump’s authenticity.

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“What was so fantastic about it was the fact that he wasn’t pretending to be something that he was not,” she said. “He was exactly who he was.”

State Republican Party delegate Anna Bryson, a former school board member from Orange County who attended the luncheon, said she was most impressed by Noem’s financial acumen, especially her efforts to reduce taxes.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem speaks at the California Republican Party Spring Convention.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem speaks at the California Republican Party Spring Convention on Saturday in Burlingame, Calif.

(Loren Elliot / For The Times)

“As a person who’s driven by who’s going to make the best economy for everybody, I was very impressed and I wasn’t really prepared to be impressed,” Bryson said, recounting her experience being elected to the Capistrano Unified School District amidst a budget deficit of more than $200 million and the need to avoid bankruptcy. “So I have to give her great kudos for the sound financial policies she’s putting in place.”

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She gave her a pass on the dog controversy because Noem is a rancher, as are members of Bryson’s family.

“When you’re speaking to the average American whose dogs are really important in their families, like they’re members of their family … it’s a different world,” she added. “I’m sure she regrets it. Who wouldn’t? But with all of us in politics, if you’ve been elected you have had a moment where we didn’t say what we exactly meant, right?”

More than 800 delegates, alternates and guests attended the convention at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco Airport in Burlingame. The last time the state GOP met in Burlingame was in 2016, when protesters clashed with police outside because of an appearance by then-presidential candidate Trump. There were no protests Saturday afternoon outside the hotel, although several police officers were stationed around the building.

Times staff writer Anabel Sosa contributed to this report.

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London mayor urges foreign leaders to condemn Trump as racist, sexist, homophobic

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London mayor urges foreign leaders to condemn Trump as racist, sexist, homophobic

London Mayor Sadiq Khan branded former President Trump a racist, a sexist and a homophobe as he urged his own Labour Party to do more to “call him out.”

Ahead of the presidential election in November, the U.K.’s Labour Party appears to be working to strengthen its relationship with Republicans should Trump take back the White House. However, Khan, a fierce Trump critic, insists the party “shouldn’t be literally rolling out a red carpet for a state visit.”

Khan’s remarks on the former president came after foreign affairs chief David Lammy appeared to extend an olive branch earlier this month while insisting Trump is “often misunderstood” when it comes to policy and “wants Europeans to do more to ensure a better defended Europe.”

LONDON MAYOR UNDER FIRE FOR REPORTEDLY SNUBBING QUEEN STATUE IN FAVOR OF ART CELEBRATING TRANS PROSTITUTES

Former President Trump, left, and London Mayor Sadiq Khan (Getty Images)

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Rejecting Lammy’s position, Khan told Politico, “I’m quite clear, I understand, on Trump. He’s a racist. He’s a sexist. He’s a homophobe. And it’s very important, particularly when you’ve got a special relationship, that you treat them as a best mate.

“If my best mate was a racist, or a sexist or a homophobe, I’d call him out, and I’d explain to him why those views are wrong,” the London mayor added.

MAYOR SADIQ KHAN RIDICULED FOR BLAMING CELL PHONES WHEN CHALLENGED ON KNIFE CRIMES IN LONDON

Khan, who was recently re-elected to a third term leading Great Britain’s most populous city, told the outlet he worries “about a Donald Trump presidency.”

“You know, I’ve been speaking to governors from America. I’ve been speaking to mayors from America. Of course, we’ll have a relationship, whoever the president is. But we shouldn’t be literally rolling out a red carpet for a state visit,” he said. 

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“It’s really important that we, of course, have good relations with Democrats and Republicans. But I lost count of the amount of Republicans I’ve spoken to who are also worried about a Trump presidency.”

Khan and Trump have a history of feuding and not seeing eye to eye on a number of topics, including immigration.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan

London Mayor Sadiq Khan leaves Millbank Studios after conducting media interviews Aug. 29, 2023, in London. (Carl Court/Getty Images)

In 2019, prior to his arrival in London for a state visit, Trump referred to Khan as a “stone cold loser” who is “very dumb.”

Responding to those comments in his interview with Politico, Khan said: “I’ve got more latitude as a mayor to just to say what I feel about Trump, and I make this point. He called me a ‘stone cold loser.’ I’ve won three. How many has he won?”

Khan’s remarks come as the Labour Party is expected to return to power after 14 years in a U.K. general election that will take place in the coming months.

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Lammy, who has criticized Trump in the past as a “neo-Nazi-sympathizing sociopath,” recently traveled to Washington, D.C., where he met with a number of Democrats and several Trump allies, including Ohio GOP Sen. JD Vance and South Carolina GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham.

“Were his words in office shocking? Yes, they were,” Lammy told Politico of the former president. “Would we have used them? No. But U.S. spending on European defense actually grew under President Trump, as did the defense spending of the wider alliance during his tenure.”

Lammy also argued Trump helped matters by pushing European nations to increase their own defense spending.

David Lammy

Foreign affairs chief David Lammy said earlier this month Trump is “often misunderstood” when it comes to policy. (Anthony Devlin/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

“When he began his campaign, only four countries were spending their 2% of GDP. The number was 10 by the time he left office. And it is 18 today.” Lammy added.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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