Bresha Meadows knows what monsters look like.
She saw one daily, his presence unavoidable as he tormented her family through the shadows of the night and even in the broad daylight. She watched helplessly as he brutalized her mother, threatening and beating his children, hoping against hope that the looming horrors would end.
Jonathan Meadows, she says, repeatedly threatened to kill them all.
But when the then 14-year-old Ohio girl picked up a gun and shot her father in the head last July 28, ending a years-long campaign of terror, she woke to a new monster—one that was supposed to protect her: the criminal justice system.
Bresha was arrested and held in a Warren, Ohio juvenile detention center, charged with aggravated murder. Warren prosecutors fought to push to try her case into the adult system where she would face a possible life sentence. The district attorney reversed course Thursday, but the question remains: Should she face charges at all?
Like Bresha, I’ve met my share of monsters. There was my father who pushed my mother’s face through a plate glass window and, later, her live-in boyfriend forced me into a bathtub filled with scalding hot water. I was five years old at the time, but I can still see the redness and the yellow blisters that swelled on my pale bony legs. I can still hear my screams roaring in my ears. My then 14-year-old brother Donnie kicked down the bathroom door and pulled me from the tub. My sister Lori Ann, who was 12, called my mother at work.
Mama shot Tony in the leg that night, leaving him with a permanent limp. Years later, she brandished her pistol again after he threatened to kill her and dump her body in the Mississippi River.
She was arrested on a gun possession charge. Nearly four decades later, my mother thought the case was closed until it was discovered in a background check for a concealed carry license.
I will never forget the night that Tony beat her savagely, upending our living room furniture as she struggled to get away. My brother Christopher, best friend Debbie and I locked ourselves in a bedroom, stuffing metal and wooden toys into pillow cases and barricading the door. We were children-- eight and nine years old-- preparing to defend ourselves with anything we could get our hands on.
I ran away from home at least twice that year, trying to escape the madness. Debbie helped me pack an overnight bag with clothes, a few toiletries, my favorite dolls and a sandwich she took from her mother’s kitchen. But, at eight years old, I had barely enough money—between my allowance and hers-- to catch a Bi-State bus down St. Charles Rock Road in St. Ann, Missouri and cross into the city limits of St. Louis to get to my Aunt Doris Jean’s house.
Tony circled the block, looking for me. I hid out in the county library, clutching the bus schedule, until the next one came by. I watched him turn the corner, then I hurried aboard, dropped two quarters into the slot and slunk down into the nearest seat. I didn’t feel safe until the bus reached the stop near Martin Luther King Drive and Taylor Avenue. I walked the last block, lugging my suitcase down an unpaved alleyway.
Nobody was home when I got to my auntie’s run-down, walk-up apartment, except her feral old cat Samantha and a mutt named Lady. I waited on the porch with the dog until my Uncle Willie Byrd stumbled in drunk after nightfall.
That was 1976.
Our physical wounds have healed, but the emotional scars remain. I was told that Anthony Gino Delgado died in prison after he was convicted on capital murder charges. My brother Donnie said Tony was in jail because he decapitated a man with the sickle.
Like my mother, I would later face down my own abuser. I repeatedly tried to leave and was stabbed in the back the day I finally got out. We were lucky.
“Approximately 75 percent of women who are killed by their batterers are murdered when they attempt to leave or after they have left an abusive relationship,” researchers found, and “women are 70 percent more likely to be killed in the two weeks after leaving than at any other time during the relationship,” experts say.
One in three women are victims of domestic violence, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and the presence of a gun in the household increases the likelihood by 500 percent. “One in 15 children are exposed to intimate partner violence each year, and 90 percent of these children are eyewitnesses to this violence.”
Children are not only witnesses, but are often victimized—as both Bresha and I were-- by the same abuser. The impacts are life-long. We are “six times more likely to commit suicide,” according to Brian F. Martin, who founded the nonprofit advocacy group Children of Domestic Violence.
Despite the facts of the Meadows case and the body of research that clearly spells out the dangers of domestic violence, prosecutors chose to charge Bresha in her father’s death. The announcement that her case will be tried by a juvenile judge was welcome news. However, if convicted, Bresha, who is the niece of a Cleveland police officer, can still be incarcerated until her 21st birthday.
“I am obviously thrilled with the decision by the prosecutor to keep Bresha’s case in the juvenile court,” defense attorney Ian Friedman said. “This doesn’t change our position that this was a self-defense scenario and we will press on with our effort to get Bresha home with her family right away. Today is a great day.”
There is a national movement to free Bresha. “Over 100 domestic violence organizations have endorsed a call to drop the charges against her and grant her an immediate release,” according to Huffington Post. “A petition with the same request has over 24,000 signatures.”
Before the shooting, Officer Martina Latessa said Bresha ran away from home and opened up about her father’s brutality. She reportedly told her aunt that her father had beaten her mother and “threatened to kill the entire family.” Bresha, she said, was “suicidal.”
“We didn’t know for months what was going to happen,” she said. “Now we know she will not spend the rest of her life in prison, no matter what.”
That isn’t enough. The charges should be dropped altogether and the family should be given the resources necessary to rebuild their lives. The profound and traumatic impacts to Bresha, whose mother called her a “hero,” will be long lasting. By the time Bresha makes the next court appearance on January 20, she will have spent nearly six months behind bars.
That will be six months too long.