CW: Domestic violence
Prosecutors Dennis Watkins and Stanley Elkins:
My name is Kelly Hayes. I am a writer and an activist, and I am also a trauma survivor. Like many people around the country, I have been deeply moved by the story of young Bresha Meadows — who is currently confined for ending the cycle of domestic violence that had controlled her life, and steadily imperiled the life of her mother. Bresha was held hostage by a social, legal and economic structure that left her no reasonable means of liberating herself from a place of violence and fear. For Bresha, the death of someone in that house was always a looming possibility, and she expressed as much to those she thought might help or listen — but no one did.
The system failed Bresha Meadows, just as it fails so many abuse survivors. We know that, as a society, we are not providing victims of domestic abuse with the support they need — psychologically, materially or financially — to break free of those who harm them. We also know that most women who are killed by abusive partners are killed while trying to leave, and that the odds of such a crime occurring are substantially greater when the abuser owns a gun — as Jonathan Meadows did. We know what Bresha was up against, and how we, as a society, did not see her until a tragic, desperate act landed her in a cage.
As someone who has survived violence, I feel deeply for Bresha. I think many survivors do. Because while most of us did not kill our abusers — whether they were parents or partners — we know what it’s like to feel trapped. Some have reported their experiences, as Bresha did, to no avail. Some have fled, as Bresha did, only to be tracked down by their abusers, or returned to their custody. As survivors, we know what it’s like to feel like there are no good options left. And we know what it’s like to be 14, when the world isn’t built to hear you, even if what you’re trying to communicate is a matter of life and death.
Most of us can’t imagine the despair Bresha experienced, to feel compelled to do what she did, but we can begin to piece together why it happened, thanks to Bresha’s prior efforts to save herself and her mother. We, as a society, were given every opportunity to help this child, but we did not see her. As a Black child, as an abuse victim, as a runaway, she was not visible to us. The only thing that made her seen, and halted the violence that brought her to despair, was the very act she is charged with. We all have to own that, and to aspire to do better.
So if there is to be a moral reckoning for this tragedy, let it be one that we all shoulder, using Bresha’s failed efforts as a roadmap. By retracing her steps and determining what assistance, services or support might have helped this child before her desperate act of last resort, we can actually create some justice in this world, rather than simply incarcerating another abused child — and by doing so, greatly reducing her chances of ever living a happy, healthy, self-determined life.
Bresha already has a great deal to recover from. She will forever carry the trauma of the abuse she suffered, and the act she felt compelled to carry out to save her mother. But this child’s story has reached a turning point, and you can help ensure that the next chapter isn’t as dark as the one that came before it. Bringing Bresha home, and resolving to better protect abused families wouldn’t simply be a turning point for one young girl and her family. It would be a step forward for us all.
For these reasons, I am joining the chorus of organizations and individuals that are asking that you drop all charges against Bresha Meadows, because while I am no legal scholar, I know that leaving this child trapped in a cage is not what justice looks like.