Silenced citizens speak out against the actions of an administrative looking to control their message
From Governor-approved media credentials to the banning of outspoken citizens from the hallways of local government, the tactics being taken by Maryland's democratic leaders border on a fine line of violating America's first and most prevalent constitutional right – the freedom of speech. And while many cases have highlighted a short-sighted arrogance of local political leaders, in excluding the voices of the opposition; the recent arrest of local Baltimore activist Kim Trueheart seemed to only exacerbate an existing problem – the violation of the people's rights.
Trueheart, one of Baltimore's most vocal and committed activists, was arrested yesterday while trying to enter City Hall for the weekly Board of Estimates meeting, where she remains a constant presence for the people. She was approached by the local police that secure the front door of Baltimore's legislative chambers, and was asked to leave the facility as she was 'banned' from the building for a period of 30-days, for her actions during a press conference last week.
Asking the officers exactly what law she had violated by simply asking the Mayor of Baltimore why she was wasting her, and other citizen's, hard-earned tax dollars regarding a questionable phone system; Trueheart was placed in handcuffs when officers apparently become irate, according to sources who were present at the scene.
According to Ms. Trueheart, she attended a January 16th press conference involving Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake – who Trueheart once supported but has since become one of her most outspoken critics – in which she began questioning the first term mayors decision to waste what City Comptroller Joan Pratt says is upwards of $400,000 a month in taxpayer dollars on a phone system that has become a 'hot topic' amongst local leaders.
Persistently questioning the Mayor, who continued to ignore her pleas, Trueheart was asked to leave City Hall because of 'disorderly behavior' – though Trueheart believs that the officers were acting 'disorderly' by pushing her around. “I was at City Hall as I always am, filming the press conference, and as she headed to the elevator after Jayne Miller and Luke Broadwater decided not to ask her any questions; Ian Brennan, the mayor's second-in-command in the press office, brought her back to answer my questions,” says Trueheart, giving an accurate account of both incidents.
“Her officers then proceeded to begin bumping and pushing me as I tried to film the mayor while asking her why she was spending this amount of money, which mind you was immediately following the BOE meeting and a Pratt press conference where she accused the mayor of such mismanagement.”
Trueheart was then placed on a frequently used 'banned' list created by this Mayor, in which her picture was posted in the downstairs security area and prohibited from entering the building that essentially is paid for by taxpayer dollars. She questioned why she was now being 'banned' from a building that she frequents and has no prior issues of 'disorderly behavior', in which Lt. Morris – the Mayor's security details supervisor – had no clear answer for; yet told her that the ban would remain in effect until February 15th, at which time he'll then decide whether or not to remove the ban.
It was this ban that led authorities to ask her to leave yesterday's proceedings, though she says she was there for about an hour before anyone suggested that she exit the building. “I was there at 8:30am as usual, and actually wasn't asked to leave for about an hour, as I sat and spoke civilly with the officers like usual; and it wasn't until I began leaving the building that they decided to put the handcuffs on me, forcing me back in to make it look as if I was arrested inside the facility – as five officers proceeded to rough me up yet again,” says Trueheart.
“This type of treatment of citizens simply holding our elected officials accountable is not something that should be tolerable by any member of the city council.”
However, Trueheart isn't the first person that has been banned from City Hall by this Mayor, as other outspoken activists such as SCLC President Cortly 'CD' Witherspoon were recently banned as well, and even faced criminal charges for their persistent actions representing the people.
“The problem is that the Charter specifies that the City is owned by the Mayor and City Council, but our attorney argued effectively that police officers work for the Baltimore City Police Department, not the Mayor; thereby setting a precedent that doesn't allow for outspoken activists like Kim to be criminally liable for their presence at City Hall,” says Witherspoon, who was found 'not guilty' on Tuesday, along with Sharon Black of the All People's Congress, as they were both charged with trespassing and disorderly conduct stemming from an incident last year when they tried to hand-deliver a letter to the Mayor requesting an 'emergency meeting' to discuss issues regarding police brutality and the funding, or lack thereof, of city rec centers.
“It was clear that both the arrest – which was handled by the city's SWAT team – as well as the continued prosecution of Sharon and I, were politically motivated; as I remained banned from City Hall while these charges were pending – yet Sharon did not,” stated Witherspoon. “She faced the same charges and was present with me, yet she wasn't banned and I was, which is the real question; how come some are 'banned' and others are not? And what gives her [the Mayor] the authority to implement such a ban? And since the City Council is a co-owner of the corporation known as Baltimore City, can't they essentially override her ban through legislative action or a vote of dissent?”
Those questions remain unanswered at this time, though Trueheart now finds herself in a similar predicament as Witherspoon and Black; as she was released from Baltimore's Central Booking and Intake Facility in the wee hours of the morning (3:15AM) facing charges of trespassing, disorderly conduct and failing to obey an officers command.
"And this is the person the DNC wants as their new secretary? A dictator who doesn't allow for criticism of her policies, and gets those who disagree with her locked-up and placed on some illegal ban list," questioned one social media critic.
She says that she was quite pleased with the treatment she received in the detention facility, and was enormously grateful for Mike McGuire of the Occupy Movement waiting hours for her release to drive her home – with hot chocolate in tow. “I certainly was pleasantly surprised and appreciative of his commitment and compassion regarding my situation; and it's that type of humanity that seems to lacking from those in City Hall?”
Posting a Tweet upon her release that 'The rights of all people must be preserved ... Justice, equity and liberty are NOT just for some @MayorSRB', and facilitating a more in-depth discussion about the Mayor's actions and that of the officers regarding her arrest on Facebook; many local leaders lined up behind Trueheart, severely criticizing the totalitarian efforts being conducted by the 42-year old Chief Executive of Baltimore.
Local Islamic activist David Anthony Wiggins questioned the Mayor and her decision: 'What lawful authority do you hold as a trustee to "ban" a taxpayer/beneficiary of the municipal corporation from a public facility that is consistent with the Maryland Constitution and the Public Accommodation Act?'
Others remained committed to rising up and showing a force of solidarity highlighting the rights of the people. 'I think its time to stop hiding and as many as possible unite and standup! I've long seen the handwriting on the wall as the parallels to Rome are not surprising,' says Mark Mosley; while local tech leader David Troy followed suit suggesting that many people may rally around Trueheart and becoming City Hall surrogates for the activist.
“I think you will find there are people who are willing to go to City Hall in your stead. By banning you they are asking for 10, 100 others to show up as well. They cannot ban everyone, and they cannot silence inquiry and dissent.”
However, Rawlings-Blake's decision to silence those who don't accept her policies 'hook, line and sinker', seem to be a tactic taken out of her good friends book of politricks – Governor Martin O'Malley. The former Mayor of Baltimore, who Rawlings-Blake supported in his quest for higher office in 1999, has a history of censoring media outlets and reporters (citizen journalists) who do not agree with his positions as well.
In fact, he became the only Governor in Maryland history to mandate that all media credentials given by the state's Department of General Services, be approved first by his communications office; even after he criticized former Maryland Governor Robert Ehrlich in 2006 for shutting out two Baltimore Sun reporters from media events.
In fact, it was the Governor's Office that withheld their approval of this Examiner’s state media pass in years past, finally approving the credentials only after certain African American and Republican lawmakers called him out for such censorship. However, he seems to be back to his old tricks, as multiple online media outlets – including this Examiner – have had their re-approved passes for the 2013 session delayed for weeks now.
“We're already two weeks into the legislative session, and a process that usually takes hours, or at the very most a day or two, has been prolonged for weeks to keep us locked out of the process,” says one independent media journalist. “If you don't agree with the King, and/or Queen now as well, you'll be shut-out and silenced – 'by any means necessary'? I'm not sure that's what Malcolm meant by his statement, but its certainly the meaning behind the exclusion of certain citizen critics who have a constitutional right to be present in the hallways of justice here in Maryland – or anywhere in this country.”
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