In her first on camera appearance since being confirmed as the nation’s top law enforcement officer, Attorney General Loretta Lynch pledged the continued support of the Department of Justice in helping to defuse tensions between law enforcement and Baltimore’s black communities.
The violence, she said, which included arson, looting, and clashes with police on Monday night, undercuts broader efforts at reaching some sort of accord.
“I want to make it clear once again that these senseless acts of violence are not only a grave danger to the community - and they must stop - but they are also counterproductive to the ultimate goal here, which is developing a respectful conversation within the Baltimore community and across the nation about the way our law enforcement officers interact with the residents that we are charged to serve and to protect,” Lynch said.
"And that's a conversation that I am committed to advancing.”
Lynch, the first African American woman to serve as U.S. attorney general, was sworn in on Monday — the same day as the funeral of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who suffered a spinal cord injury while in police custody. Violent riots and looting in Baltimore followed the funeral.
Lynch vowed that the Department of Justice would continue its investigation into Gray’s death and dispatched several top officials to help calm the chaos.
The Obama administration has increasingly had to wade in to help address racial tension in communities across the country as the deaths of several black men in encounters with police highlighted racial and socioeconomic undercurrents at the core of stark showdowns with members of law enforcement.
Lynch, political experts say, "has her work cut out for her."
"It’s been an incredible six to eight months and the irony of it happening under a black president makes it even more absurd and bizarre," said Mark Anthony Neal, an African American studies professor at Duke University. “When you can talk about visible gains, but for the rank and file black folks conditions haven’t gotten much better. And in terms of law enforcement they feel it’s open season on them.”
Lynch said on Wednesday that while Baltimore is a “symbol of the issues that we must all deal with” it is also a community committed to trying to make things better. She pointed to the peaceful protests and relative calm of Tuesday night as the National Guard helped enforce a curfew.
“Baltimore is a home to more than 600,000 people. And it was their home that the peaceful protesters were trying to make better. And it was also their home that the injured officers were trying to protect,” Lynch said. "So let us keep all the people of Baltimore in our thoughts and prayers in the coming days."