White House faces new racial crisis in Baltimore

Washington CNN  — 

Newly sworn-in Attorney General Loretta Lynch said Monday night the Justice Department will continue its investigation into the death of Freddie Gray and send two top officials to Baltimore in an effort to quell the riots unfolding there.

Lynch met Monday evening with President Barack Obama to discuss the riots in Baltimore. The meeting was not called specifically as a result of the situation in Baltimore, the White House said, but Lynch told Obama she’d be monitoring the situation there.

“As our investigative process continues, I strongly urge every member of the Baltimore community to adhere to the principles of nonviolence,” Lynch said in a statement. “In the days ahead, I intend to work with leaders throughout Baltimore to ensure that we can protect the security and civil rights of all residents. And I will bring the full resources of the Department of Justice to bear in protecting those under threat, investigating wrongdoing, and securing an end to violence.”

Obama also spoke with Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake on Monday, while his senior adviser, Valerie Jarrett, spoke with Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, the White House said.

Freddie Gray funeral draws White House officials

The growing violence in Baltimore, just 40 miles from the White House, represents another challenge for the Obama administration in addressing racial unrest across the country. Since the police killing of an unarmed teenager in Ferguson, Missouri, last summer, the administration has worked to acknowledge deep frustrations in minority communities while also supporting law enforcement.

Obama, the nation’s first African-American president, has spoken in personal terms about police harassment. So far, he hasn’t spoken about the unrest in Baltimore, but White House officials say they’re considering releasing a statement to address the situation.

President Barack Obama is pictured on the South Lawn of the White House on April 28, 2015.

The violence in Baltimore comes on the same day as the funeral for Freddie Gray, who died in police custody under circumstances that remain unclear.

The situation presents an immediate challenge for Lynch, who was sworn in on Monday after a five-month confirmation battle in the Senate. Her strong relationship with law enforcement was touted as a key qualification for the attorney general job.

She said she will send Vanita Gupta, the head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, and Ronald Davis, director of Community Oriented Policing Services, to Baltimore “in the coming days” to meet with religious and community leaders.

Baltimore mayor struggles in response to riots

The White House sent three representatives to Baltimore on Monday for Gray’s funeral: Broderick Johnson, a native of the city and the chairman of the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force; Heather Foster, an adviser in the White House Office of Public Engagement; and Elias Alcantara, the associate director of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs.

Broderick and Foster also attended the funeral of Michael Brown, the unarmed 18-year-old who was shot and killed by a Ferguson, Missouri, police officer last August.

During his tenure as attorney general, Eric Holder spearheaded a federal effort to crack down on police departments that show a pattern of racial bias, and considered bringing federal charges in the Brown shooting. He visited Ferguson immediately after intense protests there began and said his presence helped calm the situation.

His Justice Department also sent community relations officials to Baltimore in an effort to improve communications between the community and law enforcement there.

Hogan, the recently elected Republican, signed an executive order Monday evening declaring a state of emergency and activating Maryland’s National Guard. In a statement, he said the “looting and acts of violence in Baltimore will not be tolerated.”

Hogan also canceled his public events scheduled for Tuesday.

“Look, people have the right to protest and express their frustration,” Hogan said at a Monday night press conference. “But Baltimore city families deserve peace and safety in their community, and these acts of violence and destruction of property cannot and will not be tolerated.”

Baltimore’s handling of riots slammed as ‘disaster’

Maryland State Police have ordered an additional 40 troopers to Baltimore and will be deploying Monday evening to join the 42 troopers already assisting city police. A state police official said Maryland is also asking mid-Atlantic police forces nearby for as many as 5,000 officers to assist their effort.

Rawlings-Blake said Baltimore is instituting a city-wide 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew, starting Tuesday night and lasting for one week. She said she’d asked Hogan for the National Guard to be deployed as quickly as possible. Baltimore public schools were also closed Tuesday, according to a city official.

“(The city is being) destroyed by thugs who in a very senseless way are trying to tear down what so many have fought for, tearing down businesses, tearing down or destroying property, things that we know will impact our community for years,” she said.

Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings, who spoke at Gray’s funeral on Monday, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on “The Situation Room” that “there are different elements here. You have some people that are genuinely very upset about what happened to Mr. Gray. … I’m asking people not to get involved in” looting and rioting.

He said 150 ministers were meeting Monday night in Baltimore in search of ways to diffuse the tensions.

Cummings also said he’d taken a call from White House adviser Valerie Jarrett on Monday afternoon offering the White House’s assistance and saying that Baltimore’s police department “is going to be looked at very carefully by the Justice Department.”

Both of Maryland’s Democratic senators said they are concerned about the violence.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski called the situation “terrible.”

“Violence is unacceptable no matter who does it. Vandalism is unacceptable no matter who does it,” Mikulski said in a statement. “It’s time for calm. It’s time for the kids to go home. It’s time to remember the vast majority of Baltimore’s citizens are law abiding. “

Sen. Ben Cardin asked Baltimore residents to “respect each other’s rights.”

“We respect your right to express your view, but do it in a respectful way. And don’t feed into the very few number who have resorted to vandalism and violence,” he said.

Baltimore police said 15 officers have suffered injuries in the clashes on the city’s streets, including broken bones, and two remain hospitalized. They’ve arrested 27 people on Monday.

At one point, police officers in riot gear took cover behind an armored vehicle as protesters pelted them with rocks. Officers appeared to use tear gas on the protesters.

Baltimore police said there is a “credible threat” that local gangs are planning to team up in an effort to “take out” law enforcement officers.

The Baltimore Orioles baseball team, meanwhile, postponed the game it had scheduled at Camden Yards on Monday night.

CNN’s Pam Brown and Michelle Kosinski contributed to this report.