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Politics & Government

Attorney General Loretta Lynch Visits Baltimore

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Loretta Lynch was just settling in to her new job as attorney general last week when the unrest in Baltimore over the death of Freddie Gray reached its climax. Today, the new attorney general went to Baltimore to meet with a range of people from the mayor to Freddie Gray's family to police.

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LORETTA LYNCH: I have watched the police of this city, and I know that there are difficulties. I know that we have struggles, and we are here to help you work through those struggles.

BLOCK: NPR's Carrie Johnson has been following the attorney general today, and she joins us now. And, Carrie, what was Attorney General Lynch hoping to learn today?

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Her message, Melissa, was that this was a listening tour. She wanted to hear from a wide array of people in Baltimore, hear what they had to say about the city, the relationship with the police and what they might need. Loretta Lynch said Baltimore has come to symbolize something bigger than the violence that hit the city last week. She also said there's a lot of work to do here, but it can get done. And she promised the mayor, we are not going anywhere until it gets done.

BLOCK: And, as we said, part of that listening tour involved meeting with the police. What did she hear from them, and what did she tell them?

JOHNSON: The attorney general walked in the room of the central district and talked about how long they - and hard - those officers had been working, sometimes without a day off for days on end. She also shook the hand of a man who was injured in the eye when a brick during the unrest went through his windshield. She said that these law enforcement officers, whether they like it or not, had been put on a national stage, and it's moments like these that choose them. She also understood that they had been working hard in the community and would continue to work hard in the community.

BLOCK: And what about her meeting with the family of Freddie Gray?

JOHNSON: We watched as Freddie Gray's mother and stepfather entered the University of Baltimore. They didn't have any comment, and in fact, their meeting with the attorney general was behind closed doors. Loretta Lynch did tell reporters afterward that she offered the family her deepest condolences. And of course, her Justice Department has an ongoing federal civil rights investigation into his death.

BLOCK: Well, let's talk about that. What about that investigation and any possible investigation into police practices overall in the city of Baltimore?

JOHNSON: So the Justice Department, at least right now, is doing three things. The first is that ongoing federal civil rights investigation of the Baltimore police officers to see if any of them used excessive force or otherwise violated Freddie Gray's constitutional rights. Second, long before Freddie Gray's death - months and months before, Baltimore had invited the community policing unit at the Justice Department to come in and evaluate it and figure out how it could be working better. That investigation or evaluation is ongoing as well. And then once again today the city council president, Melissa, has asked the Justice Department's civil rights division to investigate or initiate a pattern and practice investigation - a wide-scale civil rights investigation of the Baltimore police force, kind of along the lines of the one you may remember in Ferguson, Mo. The attorney general did not commit to that today, but she said it's on the table.

BLOCK: OK. So they've asked for that - no word yet on whether Justice Department will actually begin that patterns and practices investigation.

JOHNSON: Yes, I think we should stay tuned on that. It's worth noting Attorney General Lynch brought with her not just the head of the Community Policing Office, Ron Davis, but also the acting Assistant Attorney General For Civil Rights Vanita Gupta and several other top aides. This was a show of force by the Justice Department here today in Baltimore.

BLOCK: OK, NPR's Carrie Johnson in Baltimore with the attorney general, Loretta Lynch. Carrie, thanks so much.

JOHNSON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.