Bresha Meadows, 15 years old, sits inside an Ohio Juvenile Detention Center.
On July 28, Bresha walked into her parents’ room and killed her sleeping father with a .45-caliber, semi-automatic handgun. Having enduring years of “mental, physical, emotional” abuse, Bresha—along with Brandi, her mom, and the entire family—lived in constant fear. Only two months earlier, Bresha had run away from home, “telling relatives that she was afraid for her life” because her father was beating her mom … and threatening to kill the whole family.”
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Now she awaits an Aug. 30 hearing that will decide whether she is tried on charges of delinquency by reason of aggravated murder in juvenile court or become yet another teenager—an overwhelming number of whom are children of color—tried as an adult for murder.
Although many details remain unclear and her stepfather's family denies charges of abuse, to understand Bresha Meadows requires looking at a culture of abuse, one that sanctions domestic violence, permitting men to brutalize their wives, girlfriends and children with relative impunity.
To understand Bresha Meadows requires reflecting on a culture in which women and girls—particularly women and girls of color—are rarely seen as victims deserving protection. It requires recognizing the systemic ways that criminal justice and the media render abused women and children as “nobody,” as “illegible victims.”
Until they protect themselves and become criminals and violent threats to society.
One study found that over 90 percent of women who are locked up “for killing an intimate partner were abused by that partner.” Another study from the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision concluded that close to 70 percent of women incarcerated in 2005 are in prison as a result of having killed someone close to them after being abused and victimized by that person.
The realities of children killing abusive parents tell a similar story. According to the 1992 article “Abused Children Who Kill Abusive Parents,” each year several hundred children kill parents who spent years abusing them. Experiencing years of “physical, emotional, or sexual abuse at the hands of parents” and a system that offers little assistance, they, “seeing no alternative, resort to self-help by killing the abusive parents.”
The lack of care and assistance that defines a childhood of abuse continues with a criminal-justice system that prosecutes, a media that remains silent and supposed advocacy groups that turn away. This is the story of Brasha Meadows and all too many women and children.
You would think that Bresha should have compelled action from ““America's longest-standing civil rights organization”: the National Rifle Association. Although the organization recently released a video advocating unfettered gun access to allow women to protect themselves from abusive partners, the NRA, like its fellow “civil rights organizations,” has remained silent. The NRA’s peddling of guns as safety and protection, only to turn its back on Bresha Meadows, Marissa Alexander, Regina Carey, A'Kara Travil Edwards, Whitlee Jones and countless others, tells us everything we need to know about which lives matter to the organization.
The silence from the “Second Amendment folks” in these instances is mirrored by the failure of many white feminists to stand in protest of the ongoing injustices with #BreshaMeadows. No efforts to amplify the case, to stand in solidarity or to otherwise publicly #SayHerName. There have been no statements of support from National Organization for Women, Feminist Majority and other white feminists. This isn’t surprising, given history. “White women’s feminisms still center around equality,” Brittney Cooper wrote.
“Black women’s feminisms demand justice. There is a difference," Cooper continued. "One kind of feminism focuses on the policies that will help women integrate fully into the existing American system. The other recognizes the fundamental flaws in the system and seeks its complete and total transformation.”
These disparate philosophies have consequences in the courtroom, legislature and media and within a culture that fails to protect children and women—particularly those of color and the poor—from abusive fathers and intimate partners. And to exonerate ourselves, we blame the victims.
“No matter what I did, I couldn't do anything right,” confessed Brandi Meadows, Bresha's mom. “I believe she was trying to help our whole family get out of the box that he put us in. I believe that she saved all of us."
Bresha's crying mother made it plain: “She is my hero. I wasn’t strong enough to get out, and she helped us all.”
Unlike us, a nation that fails abuse victims—daughters, sons, mothers; that looks away and blames victims, Bresha Meadows said, "Enough."
Trapped, like millions of other kids, she felt she had no other choice. Ignored, she felt she had no other option, no other way to protect her mom, her family and herself. What could she do to live a life free from abuse and violence? She refused to live in terror; she refused to blame her mom for not leaving, since she was a victim, too. In the face of violence, fear and terror, she stood her ground, and we stand with her now.
She—like Alexander; like Carey, Jones and Edwards; like Hassan Razzaq, Israel Marquez, Donna Marie Wisener and Billie Joe Powell—refused to be a statistic. She demanded that we see her tears, her scars and her pain.
Now she languishes in a system that has failed her over and over again. The screams of so many victims of violence, racism and patriarchy bounce off the sterile walls that surround her, only to be swallowed whole by our silence.
The question is, will we listen—this time? Or, if we pretend that we can't hear them in our communities and our schools and our homes, bleeding beneath the fists of men who claim to love them, will they, like a tree falling in a forest, even make a sound?
David J. Leonard is an associate professor in the department of critical culture, gender and race studies at Washington State University, Pullman.