Mistrust between communities and police officers has been all too common in many recent news headlines. The tragic murders of Freddie Gray, Michael Brown, and Tamir Rice are only a few of the stories that understandably damaged this trust. And after Gray’s murder, more stories came out showing that Baltimore police officers have been accused of severely injuring arrested individuals many times; consequently, the Justice Department had begun its own investigation of the Baltimore police and its questionable practices.
Lynch plans to handle this issue differently from former Attorney General Eric Holder, Jr., who handled the aftermath of Ferguson. During his trip there, Holder did not meet with anyone on the Ferguson police force; rather, he met with college students and told them that he too had been profiled by police as a young man, saying, “I understand that mistrust.”
And while the students Holder spoke with had every reason not to trust the police, his comments only further damaged the already suffering relationship between Ferguson and its police, according to Chuck Canterbury, national president of the Fraternal Order of Police.
“There was a disconnect between Atty. Gen. Holder and the law enforcement community,” he said.
Meanwhile, for Lynch’s approach, she is looking to not only connect with the communities affected by these broken relations, but with the police as well.
In the wake of the Baltimore protests, Lynch visited the city and spoke with both citizens and officers. When meeting with the police, she told them that despite the violent actions of many officers who have been in the news, they “have picked a noble profession,” adding, “Despite how people may want to choose to characterize you, hold on to that as you go out on patrol every day.”
However, she is by no means ready to let the officers who have wronged the community off the hook; rather, she wants to reform the officers so they are able to handle things appropriately moving forward.
“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,” Lynch said.
And, true to her word, Lynch has not forgotten the members of the community. She met with the Gray family, as well as various faith and community leaders, after the riots occurred, in an effort to further understand what the city is going through. While Gray’s family did not make any comments after meeting with Lynch, William H. Murphy, Jr., the Gray family’s attorney, praised her efforts.
“It was wonderful for the first black woman attorney general in the history of this country to care so much about our city that she came here today to express her full involvement in coming up with a solution to our common problems,” Murphy said.
Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, mayor of Baltimore, also believes that it is vital for citizens to have a police force they can trust. “Separation is not an option,” she said. “Divorce is not an option. We have to figure out how we’re going to make this marriage work, make it healthy and make it thrive so that our city can thrive.”
Many members of law enforcement have confidence in Lynch’s ability to make this happen. According to Canterbury, Lynch is “the change [that] was needed.”
Ron Hosko, president of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund, agrees with Canterbury. “It’s time for a new start,” he said. “Let’s see where this goes. She is an optimistic, smart, experienced lady. Let’s hope she can process the sins or slights of her predecessor and hopefully not repeat them.”
President Obama has also praised Lynch for her efforts to bridge this gap. “Loretta’s confirmation ensures that we are better positioned to keep our communities safe, keep our nation secure, and ensure that every American experiences justice under the law,” he said in a statement.
Only time will tell if Lynch’s strategy will be successful. However, it is important to Lynch that people see the city of Baltimore as one unit instead of a divided town:
Earlier this week, Ivisitedwith members of the community who took to the streets in the days following the unrest, to pick up trash and clear away debris and they are Baltimore. I visited with elected officials who were determined to help the neighborhoods that they love come back stronger and more united, and they are Baltimore. I visited youth leaders who believe that there is a brighter day ahead and they are Baltimore too. And I also visited with law enforcement officers who had worked up to 16 days without a break and they were focused not on themselves, or even their own safety, but on protecting the people who live in their community, they too are Baltimore.