In 2010, Lupe’ Hawkins was driving his mother’s car in Largo, Maryland, when he was pulled over by Prince George’s County police.
A few minutes later, police assaulted him for allegedly driving with suspended tags. It turned out to be an incorrect tag number logged into the motor vehicle system. He suffered fractured ribs and other injuries.
Between 2012 and 2017, police constantly harassed Hawkins based on false accusations made by his ex-girlfriend, he said.
“The police and the whole criminal justice system [are] just messed up,” Hawkins, 36, said during an interview Friday. “I just laugh. That’s the only way that keeps me from losing my mind.”
Hawkins, who said his ribs ache when the weather turns colds, assists his sister and mother of Upper Marlboro in helping others cope with similar police encounters and to fighting injustice through their group known as The Just Us Initiative.
One hope for the family is that state lawmakers will pass stronger police legislation this week to hold law enforcement agencies accountable.
The House Judiciary Committee approved the Police Reform and Accountability Act on Friday with several amendments scheduled for debate on the House floor starting Tuesday. The bill sponsored by House Speaker Adrienne Jones (D-Baltimore County) became a top priority for this year’s session since a work group began work this summer on the legislative package.
One of the committee amendments passed would require police officers to identify themselves when they stop someone on the street or in a vehicle.
According to the provision used from legislation sponsored by Del. C.T. Wilson (D-Charles County) and Sen. Charles Sydnor, who represents parts of Baltimore City and Baltimore County, an officer must provide his or her name, badge number, law enforcement agency and reason for being stopped.
The Senate approved nine police reform bills Wednesday, including Baltimore City regaining control of its own police department currently overseen by the state, decrease law enforcement agencies from purchasing military-style weapons and require all agencies to use body cameras by January 2025.
The Senate and House bills have both subtle and major differences. For example, the Senate bill allows search warrants to be executed from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. only, while the House version cuts the time frame to between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m.
The Senate partly defines excessive force as action “that an objectively reasonable law enforcement officer would conclude exceeds what is necessary to gain compliance, control a situation, or protect a law enforcement officer or others from harm.”
The House version, under the state’s use-of-force statute, says that a police officer “may only use the force that is objectively reasonable and appears to be necessary under the circumstances in response to the threat or resistance by another person.”
If the House cannot concur with the Senate, then a conference committee would be formed with three members from each chamber to hash out the differences.
“I do feel like our bill on the House side is much stronger in a lot of respects than what was passed by the Senate,” said Del. Nicole A. Williams (D-District 22) of Greenbelt, who serves on the judiciary committee. “I think folks will be pleased with it hopefully.”
Criminal justice advocates and family members affected by police-involved killings and other incidents demand stronger bills passed before the 90-day session ends next month.
A few hundred rallied Thursday near the State House in Annapolis with five demands for lawmakers:
• Approve without amendments to restructure of the Maryland Public Information Act. The bill, named in honor of Anton Black, a 19-year-old Black man killed in 2018 by police on the Eastern Shore, would allow public access to certain police records.
• Repeal the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights statute. The Senate approved scrapping most of the disciplinary procedures such as allowing an officer to wait five days before questioned for an alleged offense.
• Create a constitutional use of force standard.
• Not allow police officers in schools.
• Allow Baltimore City to regain full control of its police department.
A phrase on several signs and chanted by the demonstrators was “compromise is not progress,” a critique of Democratic senators working with Republican colleagues on the police reform bills last week.
“If you choose to look at a problem and ignore it because someone said, ‘Well, we need to protect a murderer from prosecution,’ then it’s a problem,” said Nikki Owens, cousin of William Green, whose family received a $20 million settlement from Prince George’s County after he was killed by a police officer in January 2020.
Dawn Dalton of Upper Marlboro, who also attended the rally, said she, her son Lupe’ and her daughter Taylor Hawkins are contemplating making The Just Us Initiative a nonprofit.
The group organized four listening sessions that included Kevin Sneed, who a jury acquitted in May 2019 of attempting to kill a police officer.
A few words echoed at one session: hope, relief, innocent.
Dalton wants to schedule another session this spring. She also plans to seek a therapist to help her relax from the daily activist grind as well as work with her organization to help other people.
“I feel for those who lost loved ones,” she said. “My heart goes out to them, but the people living are going through things, too. I just want peace.”