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In her first visit to Baltimore since riots roiled the city, Attorney General Loretta Lynch on Tuesday met with community members and law enforcement officials in an effort to help ease tensions.
Lynch’s first event, at the University of Baltimore’s student center, included a conversation with about 10 students. She assured the gathering that she was there to listen and her agency will remain committed to offering support even after the cameras go away.
"We have issues to deal with," Lynch told the gathering at the University of Baltimore.
"We are here to hold your hands and provide support," she added.
Those who attended the meeting said later that they were grateful that Lynch made the trek to discuss matters. Lynch assured the group that she was very concerned about tensions in Baltimore and would "see how it goes" before making a determination on whether the circumstances surrounding Gray's death indicated a pattern of practices, said Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md.
However, the administration sees the issues at the core of the unrest in Baltimore as a national issue, Cummings said.
"The backdrop of all of the cases from Ferguson, to North Charleston, to Staten Island and then to have this case (points to the fact that) we need to go deeper and look at our police departments very carefully," Cummings said.
Lynch’s first day on the job was April 27, the same day as the funeral of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who had suffered a spinal cord injury in police custody. That night, riots erupted in Baltimore as residents protested police brutality and expressed frustration over socioeconomic conditions that left many of them feeling disenfranchised.
Six police officers have been charged in his death and the Department of Justice has launched an investigation into the nature of Gray's death.
Lynch also met with Gray's family on Tuesday and expressed condolences.
Our "hearts go out to them," she said.
The unrest in Baltimore highlights the challenges Lynch, as the first African American woman named attorney general, will face as she seeks to quell tensions between law enforcement and minority communities.
In the days following the riots, Lynch tread very cautiously and largely left it to President Barack Obama to offer comments connecting the racial tensions in Baltimore at the center of the unrest with similar tensions across the nation.The president condemned the violent riots and also said the nation needs to "do some soul-searching."
"Unfortunately we've seen these police-related killings or deaths too often now," Obama said in an interview with "The Steve Harvey Morning Show" broadcast on black radio stations across the country on Wednesday. "And obviously everybody is starting to recognize that this is not just an isolated incident in Ferguson or New York, but we've got some broader issues."
In her first on-camera speech as attorney general on Wednesday — remarks which were initially supposed to be on cyber security, Lynch called for calm and patience as her agency works to ease tensions.
It is a message Lynch echoed on Tuesday during her visit to Baltimore.
At the Baltimore Police Department's Central District, Lynch joined Anthony Batts, the city's police commissioner, in a room with officers who were on duty during last week's unrest.
She shook hands with and thanked the commissioner and police officers. She told them she knew of their difficulties and was there to help them work through their struggles.
"You take a city that has suffered a hundred years of poverty and despair and hopelessness and say to police 'go out and take care of that on an eight hour shift' and it's hard," Lynch told the officers.
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- Six Baltimore Cops Charged in Freddie Gray's Death
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