No sooner than taking the oath of office, Attorney General Loretta Lynch has picked up a ball handed off by her predecessor Eric Holder to launch a broad Justice Department investigation into the Baltimore police force to identify law enforcement practices that are unconstitutional and violate civil rights – a police department that is more than 50% black.
The announcement came a day after Lynch met with Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and community leaders to earlier this week to talk about the riots, what sparked them, and how policing practices might be fixed going forward. Mayor Rawlings-Black planned to head up the investigation but seem more than happy to hand off the task to Lynch.
In announcing the investigation, Lynch talked about “a serious erosion of public trust” between police and the communities they serve being “one of the most challenging issues of our time.”
Examination of the Baltimore police will be similar to those conducted in Ferguson, Missouri, Cleveland, Ohio and other cities plagued by unrest to identify unconstitutional policing practices including the unnecessary use of deadly force or improper stops and searches.
It is not known if the lack of leadership demonstrated by the city’s chief law enforcement officer in the city – Mayor Rawlings-Blake – will be part of the investigation.
Critics point out that Rawlings-Blake ordered Baltimore police to stand down and give “space for rioters to destroy” – orders that led to more than 100 injuries among police and unchecked property damage.
Tensions between police, the mayor and the community were already under strain following the police custody death of Freddie Grey – an incident that “smash and grab” apologists say sparked the riots and led to what many people believe are politically motivated criminal charges filed against six police officers involved in Gray’s arrest. Lynch said:
“Ultimately, this process is meant to ensure that officers are being provided with the tools they need — including training, policy guidance and equipment — to be more effective, to partner with civilians, and to strengthen public safety…”
As expected, Lynch’s statement was silent whether the investigation would include an examination of the role Mayor Rawlings-Blake’s lack of leadership and her low regard for the police under her command played in the riots or their aftermath.