ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Lawmakers and officials in Prince George’s County say domestic violence is a disturbing and persistent problem.
The statistics tell the story, said state Sen. J.J. Peters, who represents the county: In the span of a year, from mid-2015 to 2016, 18 of the 55 domestic homicides in Maryland happened in Prince George’s County.
“We pop off the page” when you look at the statistics, Peters said. “You can see that this is a real problem in our county.”
Peters is one of the sponsors of a bill that would define certain acts, such as harassment and destruction of property, as abuse. That would give judges the ability to issue orders of protection for actions that currently would not meet the legal standard for such orders.
Sen. C. Anthony Muse is co-sponsor of the Senate bill, and explained with a graphic description the urgent need for change: A year ago, he was officiating at a funeral at the church where he serves as pastor.
“And I walked up into my pulpit, and I looked over and there was a mother in the casket with a child in her arms!”
Muse said he’s especially frustrated because he’s been working on domestic violence issues in his church community for a long time.
“Unfortunately, some things never change … 20 years ago I was a young pastor and in our church that Sunday morning was a husband and wife. By the end of that day, he had shot his wife and killed himself.”
Del. Angela Angel explained that harassment and malicious destruction of property are not defined as abuse in Maryland law, and judges are thus precluded from issuing orders of protection. Angel said it seems like a small detail, but it’s crucial: Both behaviors are frequently part of the pattern of escalating domestic abuse.
“I have heard from women who have gone to court and produced irrefutable evidence: things such as nonstop phone calls to family and friends, causing them to lose their jobs. Homes and cars being destroyed, even family pets and livestock being killed in front of them,” and yet, she says, they could not get relief in the courts. “I know, because I was one of those women,” Angel added.
Angel said she was able to provide “mounds of evidence” of the harassment she was enduring, but that a judge told her there was nothing the law could do.
The lawmakers spoke at a news conference in Annapolis, and were joined by Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks, who was blunt: “The really sad fact of the matter is that in Prince George’s County it has now increasingly become the case that it is more likely that you will be killed or injured by someone you know and love than [by] a stranger.”
The bill being filed in Annapolis would also recommend that school districts include age-appropriate information on domestic violence as part of the school curriculum.