Attorney General Loretta Lynch speaks during her swearing-in ceremony at the Justice Department. Lynch traveled to Baltimore on May 5 to discuss improving ties between the police and Black residents. (Freddie Allen/NNPA News Wire)
By Freddie Allen, NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent (Compiled from Pool Reports)
WASHINGTON, D.C. (NNPA) – Keeping her promise to ensure, “both strength and fairness, for the protection of both the needs of victims and the rights of all” in the criminal justice system, Attorney General Loretta Lynch traveled to Baltimore recently to meet with city officials, law enforcement and community stakeholders to encourage closer ties between police and the residents that they are sworn to protect.
The same day Lynch was sworn-in and just a few hours after Freddie Gray’s funeral, dozens of people, most described as teenagers and students, looted shoe stores and burned local businesses and police vehicles. On April 12, Gray, a 25-year-old Black man, was chased and arrested by police officers. While in police custody, Gray suffered a severed spinal cord and a crushed voice box and died a week later. Gray’s death and viral cell phone footage of his encounter with police, sparked nationwide protests.
Last week, the Justice Department dispatched Vanita Gupta, the head of the Civil Rights Division, and Ronald Davis, the director of Community Oriented Policing Services, to Baltimore for a series of meetings with faith and civic leaders and community stakeholders to discuss the best path forward to mend the fractured relationship between Baltimore’s police force and the majority Black communities that they serve in city’s poorest neighborhoods.
Recently, Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby filed charges against six Baltimore police officers that ranged from second-degree assault to “depraved heart murder.”
During a meeting with Maryland United States Senators Barbara Mikulski (D) and Ben Cardin (D) and Congress-men Elijah Cummings, John Sarbanes and Dutch Ruppersberger, Lynch said it was inspiring to see people come together to reclaim the city.
“We’re here to hold your hands and provide support,” said Lynch to the group that al-so included William H. “Billy” Murphy Jr., the Gray family’s attorney, and Rev. Donté L. Hickman, Sr., the pastor of Southern Baptist Church, whose community resource center and senior housing complex were destroyed by fire while still under construction during the riots on April 27. She also vowed that the Justice Department was there to help the city move forward and work to improve the Baltimore Police Department (B.P.D.).
Lynch then met with Police Commissioner Anthony Batts privately and then with a small group of police officers who she called the “the hardest-working police officers in America.”
Lynch added: “To all of you on the front lines, I want to thank you. You really have become the face of law enforcement.”
Last fall, the Justice Department partnered with Baltimore officials to address concerns about abuse in the city’s police department.
“I have worked on this issue for years,” said Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, the mayor of Baltimore. “We can’t afford to fail. The relationship between police and the community is like a marriage.”
Lynch also met with Baltimore United, a community group that advocates for police reform, and others who had lost loved ones to police violence.
Earlier this year, President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing made a number of recommendations that included encouraging law enforcement officials to “establish a culture of transparency and accountability in order to build public trust and legitimacy” and to design “comprehensive policies on the use of force that include training, investigations, prosecutions, data collection, and information sharing.”
The report also recommended that police, “acknowledge the role of policing in past and present injustice and discrimination and how it is a hurdle to the promotion of community trust.”
But the letter from Gene Ryan, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #3 in Baltimore, to Mosby, may produce another hurdle to building community trust there. Ryan wrote that “none of the officers involved are responsible for the death of Mr. Gray” and that Mosby should recuse herself from the case, because Murphy, the Gray family’s attorney, donated to her campaign and worked on her transition team.
Lawyers for Edward Nero, the Baltimore police officer who was charged with police misconduct, second-degree assault and false imprisonment, filed a motion to get a closer look at the knife officers found on Gray. City and state codes both contain language that say switchblades that open automatically, with some pressure applied to a button or spring, are illegal.
Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, wrote a letter to Ryan calling his request for a special prosecutor in the case “illogical and unfounded in the law.”
Butterfield continued: “You have damaged the good reputation of your organization in writing the letter, releasing it to the media, and making accusations that amount to nothing more than propaganda intended to interfere with the proper administration of justice.”