Outside City Hall, people told their stories of being victimized by police, of loved ones shot or beaten, of the bad bargain whereby they received a monetary settlement that came with a legal promise that they never speak about what happened.
“We received blood money, which was equivalent to hush money,” Ceasefire Baltimore lead organizer Erricka Bridgeford said, reading a statement on behalf of someone whose family member was fatally shot by police during a mental health crisis.
Bridgeford was a participant in a speak-out yesterday organized by activists calling on the city to enforce a new law ending its use of these non-disparagement agreements, often called “gag orders.”
During remarks at the event, Deputy City Solicitor Dana P. Moore said, “yes,” the city will enforce the new law, that it already is following the law.
But would the Law Department put the policy change in writing, ACLU of Maryland communications director Meredith Curtis Goode asked Moore.
“No, I don’t think we’re going to put it in writing,” Moore said. “We have the legislation.”
“It don’t count if it’s not in black and white,” said activist Tawanda Jones.
Moore said she was speaking for the Law Department, and that she had not spoken on the matter with Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young.
It was essentially the same answer that City Solicitor Andre Davis has been providing and which the ACLU has found unacceptable.
If gag order opponents thought that the city’s stance would change as a result of Davis’ recent announcement he plans to resign, they were disappointed yesterday.
“It don’t count if it’s not in black and white,” said activist Tawanda Jones, after Moore concluded her remarks.
The “West Wednesday Speak-Out Session” was organized by Jones, of the Justice for Tyrone West Coalition, Runners4Justice and Baltimore for Border Justice, as well as the ACLU.
It was held as the new law, resulting from a bill approved unanimously by the City Council, goes into effect amid what critics say is a cloud of confusion.
Davis has said the city long ago stopped including non-disparagement agreements as part of settlements with people suing the city. Young said in September, announcing an executive order, that the city would stop using gag orders.
But according to ACLU attorneys, despite these declarations, the city continued to use restrictive language to limit what claimants can say.
They noted that Young’s September action was not definitive, only stating that the city may not put “unreasonable constraints on free speech rights.”
Also causing concern is the Young Administration’s stated refusal to enforce the new law, which the mayor had allowed to become law without his signature.
“We are pushing for something in writing making clear the law office’s full compliance with the law, in light of the mayor’s office advised him he couldn’t comply, and the executive order not fully addressing the issue, including making past NDA’s null and void,” the ACLU’s Goode said.
Davis Still in Charge
Questioned at the event about her position on the matter, Moore stressed that Davis is still in charge of the office and that she is his deputy.
“There’s not going to be a change until March,” she Moore said, an apparent reference to the date when Davis’ resignation goes into effect and she takes over as City Solicitor in an interim capacity.
“One solicitor at a time,” she said.