By Anna Foley
When Ohio teen Bresha Meadows heads to a pretrial hearing Thursday, accused of shooting and killing her allegedly abusive father, she’ll be on the minds of dozens of Chicagoans who have been touched by domestic violence.
On July 28, Bresha, 15, allegedly shot her father, Jonathan Meadows, in the head as he slept in the family’s living room. Bresha’s aunt, Sheri Latessa, said the man had been abusing and threatening the family for years.
The Bresha Meadows case is a timely example of the high-stakes situations families face when living with an abuser. As part of a kickoff for Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Bresha’s story stood at the center of a “free to survive” rally Wednesday outside the Thompson Center in downtown Chicago.
“Today, we want to address the root causes that give rise to domestic violence and the challenges victims face with the criminal justice system while coping with and surviving violence,” said Bethany Gomillion-Thompson a spokeswoman for the Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women’s Network.
The rally focused on the intersection of domestic violence and the incarceration of women using personal testimony, poetry and public demonstration, including stories like Bresha’s. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, nearly 60 percent of women in state prisons have experienced sexual or domestic violence. Rally Organizers said exposure to violence in the home predisposes women to incarceration. Moreover, more than 10 million men and women experience domestic violence each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We are here to galvanize support for local and national campaigns organized around women and girls incarcerated for surviving abuse,” Gomillion-Thompson said. “We stand with Bresha.”
They aren’t the only ones: Wednesday’s rally was part of national #FreeBresha movement that has sprung up including vigils, community walks and even drumming circles.
“Criminalization of defending oneself inherently implies that women are worth nothing,” said Monica Cosby, an organizer with Moms United Against Violence and Incarceration. “If we are told to wait until something happens, then we defend ourselves, then we go to jail. All that says is we are a piece of property to be abused and disposed of.”
Domestic violence sparks chain reaction
The rally overtook the the square outside the Thompson Center with a large public demonstration. Dozens of women held large brightly colored paper chains that told fictionalized stories of women experiencing domestic violence. Each story ended with the woman facing incarceration.
The emblematic stories grappled with the difficult decisions people affected by domestic violence face, such as this one about a woman named “Jackie” who finally reaches out for help: “One day, she finally has the nerve to call. She is told that since time has passed since she left home, she is not ‘directly fleeing’ domestic violence and does not qualify for a bed in a domestic violence shelter. The worker directs her to the city’s homelessness intake. Jackie doesn’t want to stay in a shelter, but she doesn’t know where else to turn at this point.”
At the center of the demonstration, all of the paper chains converged to create a specific place for Bresha. Rally participants were able to sign a petition for her release from juvenile detention, as well as send letters of support. According to rally organizer Lillian Cartwright, support for Bresha is crucial now more than ever.
“We were notified that Bresha Meadows was placed on suicide watch,” Cartwright said.
For these women, surviving domestic violence sends a powerful message.
“We have to remember to celebrate survival,” said Holly Krig of Moms United Against Violence. “We have to remember to fight for the right to defend survival.”