By: Tashina Johnson, SafeChoice Domestic Violence Advocate
Imagine you are a 15 year old girl. Your life up to this point has consisted of being verbally, psychologically and emotionally abused by your father, all while watching him physically abuse your mother. There have been endless trips to the hospital with broken ribs, blackened eyes and cuts to your mother’s body. You have run away from home twice in an attempt to get help and be free from the constant terror only to be returned. The CPS worker who interviewed your mother after your second attempt to flee did so with the abuser by her side leaving her little options in communicating the danger that presided in the household. Local law enforcement, while being advised of the situation, has done nothing to help your family, no resources, no interventions, nothing. You are desperate and the only way that you can see a way out of the cycle of abuse is to end the life of the person terrorizing your family. So one night after coming home to yet more violence you take the very gun which your father said he would use to kill you and your family and you shoot him while he’s sleeping. You are free or the terror. But instead of being supported by the very systems that failed to protect you when you pleaded for help, they now seek to imprison you for the rest of your life. This is the story of 15 year old Bresha Meadows.
This story though sad is all too familiar. A 1992 study found that, of the approximately 280 parental killings in 1990, approximately 90 percent involved children who had been victims of constant and severe abuse. “Typically, [the killing of a parent] cases involve children who are denied or provided minimal assistance and, seeing no alternative, resort to self-help by killing the abusive parents using brutal methods in non-confrontational situations,” noted study author Susan C. Smith. (Law, 2016) These children are then thrown into a legal system that according to the NAACP statistics, systematically incarcerates people of color 6 times the rate of whites. African American youth represent 26% of juveniles arrested, 44% of those detained, and 58% of the youth admitted into state prisons. They are 21% more likely to get the mandatory minimum sentence and 20% more likely to be sentenced to prison than whites.
Bresha has become yet another victim of the intersectional racism perpetrated in the criminal justice system against African Americans and even worse as a woman of color she is now invisible. She sits in a cell at the Trumbull County Detention Center in Warren, Ohio facing aggravated murder charges that, if charged as an adult for a premeditated crime, will carry a life sentence. She has been there since July 28th, 2016 and is now battling depression.
While there is a grassroots movement (#freebresha) making some traction the lack of media coverage is appalling. Bresha is not white and she is not a male so she is less politically appeasing to champion in the mainstream media. What’s worse is Bresha is a victim of domestic violence in a society that still questions whether the victim is at fault for crimes committed against them. For victims of domestic violence it is particularly hard to end the cycle of abuse since the system is not set up to be survivor centered. Often times this plays out in systematic injustice such as cuts to financial assistance programs, the lack of affordable housing and the lack of trauma informed services in our schools and criminal justice system.
The system has failed to protect Bresha and others like her but we simply cannot. Bresha’s life must matter, her story must be heard, and we must stand in solidarity with victims of domestic violence instead of persecuting them after they are forced to take extreme measures. I implore you to reach out to breshameadows.com or Girls for Gender equity to donate or sign a letter in support of Bresha.
October is domestic violence awareness month and this year our theme is “what does a survivor look like”. Well a survivor looks like me, you, and it looks like Bresha.
So let’s imagine you are 15 years old and you are being abused at home. You runaway once and when asked why, you tell law enforcement and family members about the terror awaiting you. They quickly take action and provide much needed survivor-centered services. They offer your mother a protection order because although last time she was fearful of leaving, this time she has a system of protection behind her and she’s ready to take that next step. When CPS gets involved they interview her in a safe location away from her abuser allowing her to fully disclose what’s been hiding inside the four walls of your “home”. And when she does in fact decide to leave there are resources for affordable housing and financial assistance to make the transition less traumatizing. The systems that are there to protect you do just that. Bresha is free. Just imagine.