The relatives of Jonathan Meadows said it was a deliberate act of murder. But Bresha’s mother and siblings said it was act of salvation after spending years under the thumb of a verbally and physically abusive and controlling man.
“I believe she was trying to help our whole family get out of the box that he put us in,” Brandi Meadows told The Cleveland Plain Dealer. “I believe that she saved all of us.”
The 15-year-old girl now faces a lifetime in prison if found guilty on charges of aggravated murder. She currently sits in the Trumbull County Ohio Juvenile Detention Center in Warren, Ohio, awaiting her legal fate.
But people around the nation are rallying around the teenager, holding demonstrations and letter-writing campaigns calling for Bresha’s freedom in places like Chicago, Boston, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Ohio and California, and online with the hashtag, #FreeBresha.
A petition on Change.org calling for Bresha’s immediate release said the criminal justice system unfairly penalizes Black women and girls who act in self-defense. It went on to say that prosecuting the teenager sends a bad message to victims of domestic violence.
“Criminalizing Bresha in this context sends a harmful message to survivors and their children—that even in the most desperate of situations, they will be punished instead of helped,” the petition read. “As a child impacted by extreme violence, Bresha needs a safe and supportive environment to heal and rebuild. Bresha should be released immediately and not have to endure the re-traumatization of prosecution and incarceration.”
Studies estimate that 3.3 million to 10 million children are exposed to domestic violence in their home every year, and such trauma can lead to depression, anxiety and even suicide.
The system, activists say, failed Bresha when there were clear signs something was wrong: enrolled in a gifted class in her school, the teenager’s grades began to drop; at home, her mother said, Bresha spent most of her time in the relative safety of her room; later, she ran away twice, telling relatives her father had been beating her mom and had threatened to kill the entire family.
“From day one she was born into a nightmare,” Martina Latessa, a Cleveland police officer, and Bresha’s aunt, told local Fox affiliate WJW-TV.
In 2011, the mother filed a police report and civil restraining order, saying she was afraid for her life and that of her children. The order was later dismissed.
“In the 17 years of our marriage, he has cut me, broke my ribs, fingers, the blood vessels in my hand, my mouth, blackened my eyes. I believe my nose was broken,” she wrote, as cited by The Huffington Post. “If he finds us, I am 100 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.”
Ian Friedman, the attorney representing Bresha, said given this trauma, he hopes prosecutors will see that the teenager felt she had no choice.
“She lived a life that no child should,” he said. “She took the only step that she could, in her mind, to save her mother’s life and that of her siblings.”