Here's Why People on Your Twitter Timeline Are Calling to #FreeBresha

April 18th 2017

Perhaps you've seen the hashtag on your Twitter feed with people making calls to #FreeBresha.

But who is Bresha?

Bresha Meadows is 15 years old, and she's currently awaiting a murder trial.

On July 28, 2016, in their Warren, Ohio, home then-14-year-old Bresha Meadows shot her father, Jonathan Meadows, in the head while he was sleeping. According to her family, Jonathan routinely abused his wife and children, and Bresha's actions constitute self-defense. In the Meadows' home, "downstairs, there were holes in the closet door in the shape of her mother’s head," The Huffington Post reports.

"She is my hero. She helped me; she helped all of us so we could have a better life,” Brandi Meadows, Bresha's mother, told Fox 8 Cleveland in a tear-filled interview.

The mom filed a civil domestic violence protection order against Jonathan in 2011, writing, in part, "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. 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,” according to The Huffington Post.

But the law isn't always that simple.

In December, the defense won a significant victory in the case when it was announced that Meadows would be tried as a juvenile. According to Cleveland.com, Bresha can only be detained until age 21 as a juvenile — meaning she's no longer facing the prospect of a life sentence. But the defense doesn't want her going to jail, at all. The quandary lies in the law's definition of self-defense.

Kathleen Heide, a professor at the University of South Florida and an expert on parricide, told The Huffington Post that the law typically requires that a person who believes that their death is imminent to use deadly force. Because Jonathan was asleep, it's hard to argue that Bresha's death was imminent in that moment. So as of right now, it's unclear how Bresha's trial will shake out. “Even when the situation is marked by severe abuse, [children who kill in non-confrontational situations] rarely walk,” Heide said.

Asked about resorting to deadly force in instances of prolonged abuse, Ruth M. Glenn, MPA executive director for the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence told ATTN:

“We believe that far too often, children and others are put in harms way and forced to make decisions that protect them and those around them from [sic] an abuser."

Asked if they worry that a not-guilty verdict would set a legal precedent that legitimizes extra-judicial killings, a representative of the #FreeBresha movement told ATTN:, "The answer is no we do not. We are demanding that Bresha's right to self-defense be respected and upheld. It's straightforward."

Many involved with #FreeBresha are calling for the charges to be dropped entirely and her immediate release.

These making this argument have also noted the corrosive impact of imprisonment on a young person's psyche, particularly for victims of abuse.

"I don’t think people understand how detrimental incarceration really is. It not only has a really hard impact on people's psyche but often leads to encouraging people to contemplate suicide. Bresha's been under suicide watch several times since her incarceration in late July," Mariame Kaba, a founder of the #FreeBresha movement, told The Fader.

Kaba went on to discuss the abuse-to-prison pipeline, noting that "overwhelmingly, most women in prison and girls in detention have histories with family violence before they actually end up in those places. In the case of girls, over 84 percent of girls in juvenile detention have a history of family violence prior to getting to detention." Indeed, advocates for Bresha's release argue that the system fails victims of abuse by punishing them instead of supporting them. A 2015 report suggests that the abuse-to-prison pipeline affects communities of color far more than white communities.

But in most states, Ohio included, when you take a life, the burden is on you to prove it was in self-defense. In fact, legislators in Florida recently approved an expansion of the controversial "Stand your Ground" law — the law most pertinent to the killing of Trayvon Martin in 2012. "It would make Florida the first state in the country to require that prosecutors prove a defendant wasn't acting in self-defense," according to WESH.

For Bresha, this means she would have to stand trial. Asked if Ohio residents ought to stand trial when they take a life, a #FreeBresha representative responded:

"We are calling (as a campaign) for charges to be dropped and for Bresha to be returned to her family to heal."

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