The Huffington Post
WARREN, Ohio ― Bresha Meadows, or “Breezy” as her friends called her, used to spend a lot of time in her bedroom.
Sometimes she exercised with her best friend Saquoya, doing squats and situps, the thumps of their jumping bodies reverberating throughout the house. Bresha and Saquoya liked to dance too, livestreaming their impromptu performances on Facebook.
Sometimes they just talked. They met freshman year of high school and instantly bonded. Bresha liked to confide in Saquoya. She told her about her depression, which had settled in like a dark fog.
Most nights, though, Bresha was alone, burying herself in a book with her door firmly closed. Her room, on the second floor, was a controlled environment. Downstairs was not.
Downstairs, there were holes in the closet door in the shape of her mother’s head. Downstairs was her father, a man whom members of her family described as a domestic tyrant ― domineering, violent and cruel.
“She used to hide up there,” Bresha’s mother, Brandi Meadows, 41, said in early January while sitting in her living room. “She did not want to be around him.”
As she tells it, Jonathan Meadows, 41, was an abusive husband. For the better part of two decades, she said, he beat and controlled her. Bresha and her two older siblings, Brianna and Jonathan Jr., bore witness to the violence.
“I know all the kids felt it, seen it, heard it,” she said. “It was horrible in this house.”
These days, the house is grimly quiet, bereft of screams and fighting, a tinderbox defused. Two of its residents are abruptly gone, leaving the rest of the family in a state of shock and mourning.
Precisely what took place inside Bresha’s home is still being uncovered.
In the early morning hours of July 28, 2016, Jonathan was shot in the head while he was sleeping on the couch. Police arrested Bresha, then 14, and transported her to a juvenile detention center in Warren, Ohio.
She has not been home since. Now six months after the fatal incident, she remains in custody awaiting trial on a charge of aggravated murder.
Her incarceration has attracted national attention to the plight of women and children, particularly those who are black, who are trapped behind bars for what they say are acts of sheer survival.
Anti-domestic violence and criminal justice reform advocates, organizing under the #FreeBresha campaign, have demanded that prosecutors drop the charges and release the teen immediately.
They claim that she is being punished just when she needs support and healing. In jail, there’s no mental health therapy to address her trauma. There are no family members or friends to help her recover.
No one disputes that Bresha shot Jonathan. The question is why.
Jonathan’s family members deny that he was abusive. Lena Cooper, his sister, said she thinks domestic violence claims are being fabricated to help Bresha’s defense.
“I still love my niece,” she told The Huffington Post by phone, but “it is not normal for a child to kill her father.”
But Bresha’s family members say the teen made an impossible calculation. She traded her figurative prison for a literal one so the rest of them could finally break free. Now, they are fighting to bring her home.
Bresha Meadows, a juvenile accused of killing her father, is pictured at a court hearing in Warren, Ohio, on Jan. 20, 2017. (The Huffington Post)
When Home Is A War Zone
Every year, millions of children across America witness acts of domestic violence and suffer deep psychological trauma as a result. Children understand implicitly that they are expected to keep their family’s secrets. But growing up in a violent household can literally make a child sick.
The trauma can affect kids’ developing brains, leading to “long-term consequences for learning, behavior, and both physical and mental health,” according to the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University. These same children, when they grow up, are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, commit suicide and continue the generational cycle of abuse.
But it is extremely rare for them to kill a parent.
Kathleen Heide, a professor at the University of South Florida who studies parricide, estimates there are only about 50 children under 18 who kill their parents each year in the U.S. Most of them are victims of severe child abuse and neglect, she said, and act out of pure desperation.
“These are kids who’ve endured years of abuse,” she said. “They’ve tried to get away. They may have attempted or thought about suicide, and they’ve enlisted the help of others, often to no avail.”
Bresha fits Heide’s profile to an unnerving degree, according to statements from her friends and family. She ran away from home more than once, the last time just two months before the shooting. She started cutting herself, a form of self-harm common among girls suffering from emotional distress. She told an aunt that she would rather kill herself than go back to living with her dad. Saquoya, her best friend, said Bresha felt trapped and alone.
Bresha shot Jonathan while he was asleep. That’s common, Heide said, explaining that children, usually smaller and weaker than adults, may believe it’s the only time they can fight back without risking their own lives. (Battered women who kill their abusers follow a similar pattern.)
But the law does not generally recognize such killings as self-defense, Heide said. In most cases, a person can only use deadly force in self-defense if they believe they are being threatened with imminent death or serious bodily harm. When children kill in nonconfrontational situations, she said, they are typically charged with murder or manslaughter, transferred to an adult court where they face stiff penalties, and spend decades behind bars.
“Even when the situation is marked by severe abuse, they rarely walk,” Heide said.
That was the future Bresha faced when she was first charged with murder in July. In Ohio, a child who is 14 or older who commits a felony can be tried as an adult in criminal court, and, in cases like Bresha’s, can face a life sentence if convicted.
That terrifying prospect weighed heavily on Bresha for months, her family said. She was put on suicide watch inside the Warren juvenile detention center more than once.
Then, in December, her lawyer, Ian Friedman, announced that her case would remain in juvenile court, a significant victory for the defense. Now, if Bresha is convicted, she can only remain behind bars until age 21.