Fighting for Bresha Meadows: Standing Up for Domestic Violence Survivors

Bresha Meadows is a 15-year-old child currently facing murder charges for shooting her father in the head with his own gun while he slept, after witnessing him violently abuse her mother for years. In a clear example of how the system fails Black women and girls who protect themselves, she faces the possibility of life in prison if convicted.

Our country has proven to us time and time again–from Cece McDonald to Marissa Alexander–that self-defense is a luxury rarely afforded to Black women.

Bresha, who was 14 at the time of the shooting, is currently being held in a Warren County juvenile detention facility in Ohio, after a judge decided not to release her at her pre-trial hearing. A petition with more than 9,500 signatures is calling for Ohio prosecutor, Dennis Watkins, to drop all of the charges.

Given Bresha’s abusive father, the shooting shouldn’t be considered without context. She, like many other women and children faced with violence and insufficient options for protection, committed an act of violence that should also be understood as self-defense. According to many of Bresha’s family members, her father, Jonathan Meadows kept the family isolated and away from their community. In the 2011 civil domestic violence protection order Brandi Meadows, Bresha’s mother, filed against her husband, she says: “In the 17 years of our marriage, he has cut me, broke my ribs, fingers, the blood vessels in my hand, in my mouth, blackened my eyes. I believe my nose was broken…If he finds us, I am one hundred percent sure he will kill me and the children…My life is like living in a box he created for me, and if I stepped out of that box, he’s there to put me back in that box.” Bresha’s mother has since called her daughter a hero.

According to Bresha’s mother, the abuse began when she was pregnant with her first child—now 21 years old—and has continued since. In addition to the civil domestic violence order of protection which documented and acts as proof of the abuse, Bresha herself ran away twice, staying with her aunt both times. The second time, after Bresha said her father had thrown her mother up against a wall, choked her and threatened to kill their entire family, Bresha’s aunt decided to report the abuse to Child Protective Services (CPS). But according to her aunt, the CPS representative handling their case interviewed Bresha’s mother and father together, preventing Brandi from being able to disclose anything about the abusive conditions she and her family were living in.

If Bresha’s case remains in juvenile court, she could be held in detention until she’s 21 years old. And if her case is transferred to adult court, she faces life behind bars. Bresha’s lawyer, Ian Friedman, commented on the case, saying, “This young girl endured a nightmare that drove her to do what she felt she had to do to protect her family.”

We’ve seen this story before, with CeCe McDonald and Marissa Alexander, both Black women arrested and charged for violent crimes that occurred in the midst of them protecting themselves from equally violent attacks. These two both received wide media coverage and support from grassroots organizers, eventually ending in McDonald and Alexander being released – McDonald after being incarcerated for just under 2 years and Alexander after 3 years in prison, with an agreement to serve an addition 2 years of house arrest.

We know that there are countless other similar stories that have ended, in some cases, far worse. All of these stories force us to question what kinds of options and resources are out there for domestic and intimate partner violence (IPV) survivors and families who are trying to escape their abusive partners. We know there are very few resources available for survivors who commit violence against their abusers, particularly in instances of self-defense – we’ve reported on the lack of resources and the problem with jailing domestic violence victims at Feministing before. But in regards to Black women and girls specifically—what does self-defense look like? A pair of handcuffs and potentially decades behind bars? If there’s anything to learn from CeCe McDonald, Marissa Alexander and now Bresha Meadow’s case, it’s that self-defense is a legal argument that Black women and girls aren’t afforded in our court system.

Here’s to hoping the public keeps their attention on Bresha’s story. Here’s to hoping someday soon, that she’s allowed to go home.

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Jacqui Germain is a published poet and freelance writer based in St. Louis, Missouri. Her work is focused on historical and contemporary iterations of black, brown and indigenous resistance. She is also a Callaloo Fellow, and author of "When the Ghosts Come Ashore," published through Button Poetry/Exploding Pinecone Press.

Jacqui Germain is a published poet and freelance writer based in St. Louis, Missouri.

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