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US Justice Department announces federal inquiry into Baltimore policing

The US Justice Department has launched a probe into the legality of the Baltimore police's use of force. The move comes one month after the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old African-American man, in police custody.

The Justice Department also said it would investigate whether there were "systematic violations" of civil rights and unconstitutional practices carried out by Baltimore's police authorities.

"This investigation will begin immediately and will focus on allegations that Baltimore Police Department officers use excessive force including deadly force, conduct unlawful searches, seizures and arrests, and engage in discriminatory policing," Attorney General Loretta Lynch said Friday.

"It was clear that recent events, including the tragic, in-custody death of Freddie Gray, had given rise to a serious erosion of public trust," Lynch added.

The announcement comes days after Lynch visited the city to meet with community leaders and government officials

following the riots in reaction to the death of Gray

, who died from a mysterious spinal-cord injury while in police custody last month.

Police tackled Gray on April 12, when an officer claimed that he had attempted to run after making eye contact. A bystander video shows officers forcing Gray's limp body into a police van as he moans in pain and officers acknowledge that they ignored Gray's initial calls for medical help and failed to buckle him in for the ride.

A firefighter uses a saw to open a metal gate while fighting a fire in a convenience store and residence during clashes after the funeral of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Maryland in the early morning hours of April 28, 2015 (Photo: REUTERS/Eric Thayer)

'Thugs' ransacked Baltimore on the heels of peaceful protests for Gray

Since last summer, new light has been shed on the deaths of black men at the hands of police - often with video evidence that appears to show no wrongdoing on the part of the victims. Just a week before Gray sustained his fatal injury at the hands of police, a video showed

a white officer in South Carolina shoot an unarmed black man eight times

and then appear to plant evidence next to his motionless body.

'A better Baltimore'

Attorney General Lynch, who was sworn in on April 27, said the goal of investigating whether there was a pattern or practice of discriminatory policing was "to work with the community, public officials, and law enforcement alike to create a stronger, better Baltimore."

"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 added.

Baltimore city officials began participating in a voluntary and collaborative Justice Department review last fall. The critics, however, say the review would not result in concrete changes and demand a broader civil rights investigation.

shs/bw (AP, Reuters, AFP)

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