White House faces new racial crisis in Baltimore

Updated 1:04 PM EDT, Tue April 28, 2015
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Lt. Brian W. Rice, 41, was one of three officers on bike patrol who encountered Gray and subsequently arrested him. Rice, an officer since 1997, and the other officers failed to establish probable cause for Gray's illegal arrest, Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby said.. Rice and two other officers handcuffed Gray and put shackles on his ankles. The officers placed Gray back on the floor of the wagon, face down. Rice was charged with involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault, two counts of misconduct in office and false imprisonment.
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BALTIMORE, MD - MAY 23:  Baltimore Police Officer Edward Nero (C) arrives at the Mitchell Courthouse-West on the day a judge will issue a vertict in his trial May 23, 2016 in Baltimore, Maryland. Nero is one of six police officers charged in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray, whose injuries while in police custody resluted in his death and sparked days of protests and riots in Baltimore last year.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
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(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.
PHOTO: Alex Wong/Getty Images
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 sa