(BALTIMORE – December 27, 2019) – On Wednesday, January 1, 2020 at 12pm in front of Baltimore’s City Hall (100 N. Holliday Street), a coalition of local activists will be holding a Speak-Out Session to protest Mayor Young’s refusal to recognize the new city law ending gag orders (which is supposed to take effect on this date) as well as Baltimore’s ongoing crisis of police brutality.
At the Speak-Out Session, which will be the 335th continuous weekly West Wednesday rally, victims of police brutality and their families will speak about their experiences, and local leaders and advocates will read anonymous accounts from those who do not feel safe sharing their stories because the City’s position on making null and void past gag orders has not been made clear.
Speakers will include Tawanda Jones of the Justice for Tyrone West Coalition, Erricka Bridgeford of Baltimore Ceasefire, Dr. Karsonya Wise Whitehead of the Today with Dr. Kaye show, Meredith Curtis Goode of the ACLU of Maryland, mayoral candidate and long-time community activist Catalina Byrd, and others. All attendees will also be welcomed to speak during an open mic portion of the event. Hot cocoa and cookies will be served.
For many years, victims of police brutality, sexual assault, and other kinds of unlawful discrimination in Baltimore City have been required to sign non-disclosure or non-disparagement agreements, colloquially known as gag orders, in order to receive settlements for the harm they suffered. This practice was found unconstitutional by the U.S. Court of Appeals this summer in the landmark Overbey vs. Mayor of Baltimore decision.
On October 28, 2019, after sustained advocacy from victims, families, and activists, the Baltimore City Council unanimously passed the “Transparency and Oversight in Claims and Litigation” bill, which prohibits new gag orders, nullifies all old gag orders, and requires the Law Department to provide regular reports on cases of police misconduct and discrimination, including amounts of settlements. Mayor Young allowed the bill to pass into law without his signature on December 2, 2019, and it is set to take effect on January 1, 2020. This is especially timely considering that an independent investigation of the Baltimore Police Department is currently underway in light of the Gun Trace Task Force scandal. Victims report feeling like “psychological hostages” due to the effects of gag orders — they need to speak in order to heal, and we as a city need to hear them in order to have a hope of identifying patterns of officer misconduct and curbing our out-of-control culture of police corruption.
The joy over the bill’s passage was short-lived, however, as Mayor Young announced on December 3 that he was refusing to enforce it, calling it an illegal bill and citing City Solicitor Andre Davis’s contention that it is in conflict with the City Charter because it limits the Solicitor’s sole authority over legal decisions. Other legal experts, including the ACLU’s lawyers and former Assistant State’s Attorney David A. Plymyer, have strongly rejected this reasoning with detailed rebuttals to Davis’s points, and advocates have widely condemned Mayor Young’s shocking defiance of the law, including at a protest in front of the Mayor’s car at his annual Christmas Parade.
In the wake of this intense public pressure, on December 19, Solicitor Davis announced that his office will no longer be including gag orders in new settlement agreements. While this is a very encouraging development, he has refused to put this policy change into writing, and has been silent on whether the many residents of Baltimore who were put under gag orders in the past will in fact be released from them, as the new law requires.
Nothing short of a full, public, written acceptance of the terms of the law by Mayor Young’s administration will serve to finally clear the cloud of confusion that the Mayor and City Solicitor’s words and actions have caused about whether victims can at least speak about their experiences without fear of legal retribution.
Members of the coalition that have been advocating for an end to gag orders include Justice for Tyrone West, the ACLU of Maryland, Not Without Black Women, Runners4Justice, and Baltimore for Border Justice.
Tyrone West was murdered by the police on July 18, 2013. Every week since then, a coalition led by his sister, Tawanda Jones, has rallied to protest and seek accountability for all victims of police violence.
The ACLU of Maryland works to ensure that all people in the state of Maryland are free to think and speak as they choose and can lead their lives free from discrimination and unwarranted government intrusion.
Not Without Black Women is a movement of everyday Black women who aim to radically uplift Black Women’s voices through self-expression, dialogue and sisterhood, with a focus on mentoring, community service, collaborative partnerships and political advocacy.
Runners4Justice combines running with activism, and runs to support fair development as a path toward racial and social justice in Baltimore.
Baltimore for Border Justice is a grassroots group working to address the crisis of inhumanity at our southern border; to dismantle borders here at home created by the prison system and by artificial divides based on race, class, ability, gender, and sexuality; and to connect these struggles.