Teenager Bresha Meadows, who shot her father dead in July 2016 after years of alleged abuse and violence against her mother, has been released from the residential mental health unit she has been held in for the last six months and is now home.

In a case covered here on the Sword & Scale blog in May 2017, Bresha was just 14-years-old when she fatally shot her father at her home in Trumbull County, Ohio. She was charged with aggravated murder with authorities pushing to have her tried as an adult despite her young age.

Bresha Meadows

Bresha Meadows

In May 2017 as part of a plea agreement, Bresha pleaded true to a charge of involuntary manslaughter. She was sentenced to 12 months in juvenile detention to be followed by six months at a residential mental health facility. With her sentence now complete, Bresha is able to go home on two years probation. Now 16-years-old, when she reaches 18, her juvenile record will be sealed and expunged, allowing her to move forward with her life.

“She lived a life no child, no adult, no human being should ever have to endure.”

The Bresha Meadows case is one that has raised debate around children protecting themselves and particularly the treatment of black female teens and adults within domestic abuse situations and how their actions of survival have been so often criminalized.

The release of Bresha Meadows has been greatly aided by the advocacy and support of the #FreeBresha campaign organised by Colby Lenz and Mariame Kaba. In an article published in Teen Vogue this week, they said, “In August 2016 we formed a volunteer, ad-hoc defense committee to demand her freedom.” Once the campaign gained momentum, “Supporters across the world demanded care and resources, not cages, for Bresha and all survivors of domestic and sexual violence,” they wrote.

A report by Clinical Associate Professor at Boston College Law School, Francine T. Sherman and writer and Editor Annie Black, entitled Gender Injustice: System-Level Juvenile Justice Reforms for Girls, highlights the increasing number of girls who are being arrested for violent behaviour in their homes.

Often this behaviour is a result of defending themselves against victimization or violence from family members. “This leads girls to contact with law enforcement, at which point they are treated as aggressors rather than victims,” the report writes. Furthermore, an assessment of girls currently in the justice system has revealed the “extremely high rates” of sexual and physical abuse they have experienced inside their own homes, to a level of 4.4 times that of male peers. Experiences that have been connected to delinquency, aggression, and crime carried out later in their lives.

In a research paper published in the Journal of Juvenile Justice in 2014, researchers Michael T Baglivio and Nathan Epps from the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice found that 84% of the females included in their study of over 64,000 youths involved in the Florida juvenile justice system experienced family violence and parental separation of divorce.

Bresha Meadow’s father, Jonathan Meadows, was accused of being violent and domineering against his wife and his two daughters by his immediate family who called Bresha a ‘hero’ for the actions she took that night in 2016 against him. At the time of the murder, his own family did not agree with this description, claiming he was never abusive and suggestions he was were created after his murder to provide Bresha Meadows with a defense.

In cases of patricide, when teenagers do go to trial and a history of sexual abuse is involved, their outcome can often depend on how much the jury believes them in their allegations against their father alongside the level of danger they believe the teen was in at the time of the killing.

While Bresha Meadows is now home with her family, she will be on probation for the next two years, under supervision by authorities to ensure she stays within the rules and restrictions placed upon her. Her case is one that will remain an example of a teenager pushed to extreme measures that prompted large-scale waves of support for her and teens like her.  As written by the organizers of #FreeBresha, Bresha should never have been incarcerated, but it is a win nonetheless. The punishment system was unsuccessful in disappearing this young Black woman.”