U.S. attorney general directs Justice Dept. to help Baltimore restore calm

WASHINGTON, April 29 (Reuters) - U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said on Wednesday she has directed the Justice Department to provide assistance to the Maryland city of Baltimore in addressing recent turmoil that turned into riots this week.

"I have been in direct contact with officials in Maryland, including the governor, and I have directed this department to provide any assistance that might be helpful in restoring calm and resolving the unrest that broke out across the city," she said at a cybersecurity industry roundtable.

The newly sworn-in attorney general said the head of the civil rights division and the department's policing services office are meeting with faith and community leaders in Baltimore and had visited a police officer hospitalized for injuries during the riots.

"I am heartened that the unrest seemed to ease last night," she said. "I am hopeful that progress will continue in the coming days."

The Justice Department has begun a full investigation into the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who died from spinal injuries he sustained while in Baltimore police custody, and is looking into possible civil rights violations in the city.

Last month, the department released a scathing report on a similar situation in Ferguson, Missouri, where a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager, that found widespread racially biased abuses in that city's police department and municipal court.

Gray's death has renewed a national movement against law enforcement's use of lethal force, which protesters say is disproportionately exercised against minorities. While demonstrations in Baltimore had been largely peaceful, violence erupted on Monday in the hours after Gray's funeral.

Lynch said violence was "counterproductive to the ultimate goal here, which is developing a respectful conversation within the Baltimore community and across the nation about the way our law enforcement officers interact with" residents.

"That is a conversation that I am committed to advancing," she said. (Reporting by Lisa Lambert and Lindsay Dunsmuir; Editing by Bill Trott)

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