WASHINGTON — Cicadas hummed in the trees that lined Farmer’s Lane in Camp Springs. The constant buzz of lawnmowers could be heard grooming lawns in front of spacious homes.
It wasn’t the neighborhood you’d associate with the brutal death of a toddler who police say died at the hands of her father who himself was killed in a gun battle with police. But it was precisely where Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks decided to hold a news conference on family violence.
“This is not an issue that the criminal justice system can resolve,” she said.
Instead, flanked by pastors and church leaders from across Prince George’s County, Alsobrooks called on the faith community to work with families to end the cycle of violence. In Prince George’s County so far this year, there have been 33 killings — 13 of them directly related to domestic violence.
Johnny Parker, who directs the mens’ ministry at the First Baptist Church of Glenarden, says he grew up witnessing domestic violence and was determined not to let it become a problem in his own relationship. When he noticed he was having feelings of wanting to take out his aggression physically, he said he got help. Something, he says, too many men fear doing.
“I just left LA Fitness two hours ago, and I see men want to be strong. They’ve got strong muscles. We want men to have strong relational muscles, emotional muscles and spiritual muscles,” he says.
Alsobrooks said by the time people call on police and the courts for help, the problem has reached the critical point. She says pastors and members of the community can help in ways that can head-off the violence. Pastors, Alsobrooks says, have a direct connection to families, “They meet with thousands of people every Sunday. And we want the message to get out there that this is intolerable.”
County Executive Rushern Baker has made mental health a major part of his agenda, but says the county government can’t do it alone. While he encourages people to dial 211, a state resource designed to link residents with agencies that can help them, Baker says government is a last resort for many.
“Especially among men, especially among African American men,” he says.
Baker says for many men, there’s less of a stigma in going to a pastor to seek help.
“We want them to know there’s help out there. We also want family members to know it’s not a bad thing to call and say, ‘I’ve got a family member that needs help.'”