Baptism By Fire: Loretta Lynch Faces First Big Test With Baltimore Riots

Katie Pavlich
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Posted: Apr 28, 2015 1:45 PM
Baptism By Fire: Loretta Lynch Faces First Big Test With Baltimore Riots

Newly minted Attorney General Loretta Lynch has a big problem on her hands as parts of Baltimore were burned to the ground last night in race riots. Lynch was sworn in last Friday. She's been on the job for four days.

The riots started yesterday after the funeral of 25-year-old Freddie Gray and Lynch quickly announced DOJ was monitoring the situation. When things got worse as the sun went down, Lynch sent DOJ officials to Baltimore and they are investigating today. Gray died of severe injuries, including a severed spinal cord, while in police custody after being arrested for possession of a switch blade. 

“I condemn the senseless acts of violence by some individuals in Baltimore that have resulted in harm to law enforcement officers, destruction of property and a shattering of the peace in the city of Baltimore. Those who commit violent actions, ostensibly in protest of the death of Freddie Gray, do a disservice to his family, to his loved ones, and to legitimate peaceful protestors who are working to improve their community for all its residents," Lynch released in a statement. “The Department of Justice stands ready to provide any assistance that might be helpful. The Civil Rights Division and the FBI have an ongoing, independent criminal civil rights investigation into the tragic death of Mr. Gray. We will continue our careful and deliberate examination of the facts in the coming days and weeks. The department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services has also been fully engaged in a collaborative review of the Baltimore City Police Department. The department’s Community Relations Service has already been on the ground, and they are sending additional resources as they continue to work with all parties to reduce tensions and promote the safety of the community. And in the coming days, Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division, and Ronald Davis, Director of Community Oriented Policing Services, will be traveling to Baltimore to meet with faith and community leaders, as well as city officials."

“As our investigative process continues, I strongly urge every member of the Baltimore community to adhere to the principles of nonviolence. In the days ahead, I intend to work with leaders throughout Baltimore to ensure that we can protect the security and civil rights of all residents. And I will bring the full resources of the Department of Justice to bear in protecting those under threat, investigating wrongdoing, and securing an end to violence,” the statement continued. 

Based on the way former Attorney General Eric Holder handled similar violence in Ferguson last year, law enforcement groups are watching Lynch closely in hopes facts will be pursued by DOJ before political agendas to ensure justice can be served. 

In November former FBI Assistant Director Ron Hosko sent a letter to President Obama calling Holder "chief among antagonists" in Ferguson and expressed that the rift between the Department of Justice and law enforcement must be addressed by the new attorney general. Last week when Lynch was confirmed, he expressed the same. 

“Defense Fund has more often than not been critical of the work of outgoing Attorney General Holder. We believe he made ill-timed and needless comments that only served to raise suspicion toward all of law enforcement and divide them from those they serve. His interjection of personal politics and sentiments after the fatal shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, last summer added to those of other uninformed voices and damaged trust in law enforcement in every corner of America. We have many reasons to be optimistic about Loretta Lynch’s professionalism and ability to succeed in this challenging position. Her record indicates that her tenure will be a refreshing departure from the hostile and combative administration of Mr. Holder," Hosko said in a statement. “But, Ms. Lynch has a lot of work ahead. She must undo the damage caused by her predecessor as it concerns the relationship between police and the Obama Administration. She must restore trust between the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Congress. And she must assure the public that DOJ is a fair, unbiased component that works only for the American people, not in advancement of a particular agenda. We wish Ms. Lynch great success.”

The Baltimore Police Department has an obligation to explain what happened to Gray, especially since cameras weren't in the van where he was injured. DOJ and Lynch have a responsibility to put the facts first in pursuit of a thorough, fair and just investigation.

We'll see how she does.