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Wading into Action at the Intersections, The Case for Bresha Meadows

Photo Credit: Verso Books

On July 18th, 2016, 14 year old Bresha Meadows was arrested for shooting her abusive father in the head, and she is currently awaiting trial for aggravated murder.

Bresha Meadows continues to plead “not true” (the juvenile court’s version of “not guilty”) to the charge of aggravated murder. Although, it is a plea attached to an outcome too unsettling to consider, she remains a hopeful black girl, who acknowledges the small freedoms of wearing her own clothes, being able to go outside and having additional visiting privileges. These “freedoms”, additional supports financed by her family, parallel her previous placement in juvenile detention.

At a pre trial release hearing on January 20th, a judge ordered that Bresha be sent to a residential treatment facility in her home state of Ohio. Initially, Bresha faced a life sentence for aggravated murder of her father, whom she allegedly shot and killed. It is reported that Bresha’s father brutally beat her mother and terrorized her family for years. Although her father’s family is insisting he is innocent, Bresha and her family members contend that she was born into a nightmare and was afraid of him.

An August 2016 article reported that Bresha’s mother took necessary precautions such as filing an order of protection and contacting child services. It is unclear at this juncture, whether any of those precautions were effective.

Stories like Bresha’s rarely receive recognition on a mainstream level but when they do, they tend to focus on the criminalization of black girls and the education system. Broadening the conversation on the criminalization of black girls to include child abuse and neglect, witnessing and experiencing domestic violence, trauma and a complacent child services system are imperative.

Bresha is at the intersection of witnessing domestic violence, experiencing child abuse and unsuccessful supportive resources. She has suffered the effects of shooting her father and ultimately becoming the protector of her family. Bresha’s mother, Brandi reported that she was not strong enough to leave the abusive relationship but Bresha helped so they could all have a better life.  Bresha is at risk, as demonstrated by studies that suggest that children who are exposed to domestic violence and/or child abuse are more likely to experience a wide range of adverse psychosocial and behavioral outcomes.

Bresha Meadows

Bresha’s final pre-trial hearing is set for April 17, 2017. Here are 12 ideas for action you can take, developed by the #freebresha campaign, some of which include organizing a #freebresha teach in, and creating art inspired by Bresha, to name a few.

This case is important because of the clinical work that I have done as a licensed social worker with black families in Illinois and Indiana. While my experience has spanned settings, specifically within child welfare and juvenile justice, black families are routinely marginalized throughout the experience.

Limited or no resources, lack of access to services and discriminatory practices are a few ways families are marginalized through the child welfare and juvenile justice systems.

In addition to my concern for her family as a unit, my concern is for Bresha.

Now she languishes in a system that has failed her over and over again. The screams of so many victims of violence, racism and patriarchy bounce off the sterile walls that surround her, only to be swallowed whole by our silence. read more

As a former therapist at a juvenile residential treatment center and juvenile detention center, my group and individual sessions were often tailored from a holistic perspective. Topics ranging from trauma, grief, familial, community and (what I now understand to be coined) state violence were often processed and addressed during treatment.

The longer that Bresha is locked in a juvenile facility, away from her support system, the higher her risk is for attachment and mental health issues. A representative from an organization in Ohio that advocates for youth mentioned, “Children who spend time in juvenile detention are more likely to abuse substances as adults, and less likely to have good educational outcomes and form stable families of their own.” Bresha’s case progression, home environment and psychosocial risk factors such as exposure to violence are elements that contribute to her overall mental health and well being.

Lastly, her case is important to me because she is a black girl and so am I. In solidarity, this is my fight for Bresha.

Black girlhood, violence and child abuse in the black family and the criminalization of black girls are complex topics, especially within the black community. These issues are complex due to the intersections of race, gender and the culture of abuse, all of which have a foundation rooted in racism and patriarchy.

Professor and Author Dr. Stacey Patton states, in How Black Feminists Have Become Complicit in the Abuse of Black Children, “the one form of violence within black communities that does not seem to be recognized as incurred by white racism is violence against children.” Many of these stories include our experiences with domestic violence, intergenerational trauma, community violence & state violence, along with a litany of other socio-cultural issues that impacts black families and communities. These stories are worthy of examination and amplification.

We must reflect on our present moment…who we truly are when it comes to the identity of our profession as one committed to social justice in our culture, particularly on issues where Black cis and trans women and girls are being killed and victimized while their suffering is marginalized, erased, and rendered invisible to us. Read More

Juvenile Detainment and the “Child – Support Model” The Case for Social Justice

In “Do Black Women’s Lives Matter in Social Work: A Gender Analysis of Racialized State- Sanctioned Police Violence” Crystal M. Hayes states, “As a social worker, I am calling specifically on us to do better as a profession when it comes to our commitments to promoting social justice and anti-racism in the world and culture seeped in persistent anti-Black racism, heterosexism, patriarchal violence and misogyny, and anti-queer antagonism and violence.”

According to the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), “Social workers apply social-justice principles to structural problems, use knowledge of existing legal principles and organizational structure to suggest changes to protect their clients, who are often powerless and underserved”. Related to the social worker’s role is identifying and advocating for social justice.

Bresha’s mother is tasked with financing her daughter’s care.

A billing practice, rooted in capitalistic and oppressive ideologies. Deemed by detention center administrators and proponents of the social policy, as “child support”, the financial expectations and repercussions which are placed on families is challenging.

A recent investigation conducted by the Marshall Project highlights the aftermath of this system through stories of garnished wages and the impact of detainment on the child’s behavior. Rooted in the belief that parents did not want the obligation of caring for a delinquent child, “parental billing practices” were implemented. It was subsumed that this policy would serve as a deterrent and attach billing for families that utilize detention centers as babysitters for their wayward children.

Today, mothers and fathers are billed for their children’s incarceration — in jails, detention centers, court-ordered treatment facilities, training schools or disciplinary camps — by 19 state juvenile-justice agencies, while in at least 28 other states, individual counties can legally do the same, a survey by the Marshall Project shows.

Parental billing practices should be abolished given that they are archaic and heavily intertwined with oppressive and racist roots. Roots built on the premise that collecting fees from a parent would somehow encourage them to have a different stake in their child’s life, a financial stake. This would in turn, impact their parenting involvement, engagement– too ensure the child will not put the family in such a (financial) position again.

Parental billing practices do not impact parent – child dynamics to the magnitude of decreasing first time and recidivistic interactions with the system. Given my experience as a clinician, I know this issue is more complex and nuanced than mandated billing practices. Interaction and involvement with these systems is stressful, and more often than not, traumatic. Let’s add the financial expectations associated with billing practices. A writer from the Washington Post references:

“Not only does such a policy unfairly conscript the poorest members of society to bear the costs of public institutions, operating ‘as a regressive tax,’ ” Reinhardt wrote, “but it takes advantage of people when they are at their most vulnerable, essentially imposing ‘a tax upon distress.’”

A clear example that the “personal is political”, the Meadows family is at the intersection of these social systems.

While in graduate school, I had the opportunity to work with the Michigan Women’s Justice & Clemency Project (MWJCP) which works to free women prisoners who were convicted of murder but who acted in self-defense against abusers and did not receive due process or fair trials.

Unfortunately, Bresha’s case progression echoes many of the stories of the women who receive assistance from MWJCP. Just like many of the women prisoners, Bresha and her family attempted to access the appropriate channels for assistance. Given their limited resources, “domestic issues” are generally addressed through the justice and child welfare systems. It appears those systems have failed.

One of the things that I admire about social workers is our ability to advocate for others and ask all the right, even tough questions. There are a lot of questions to ask concerning this case as Professor David Leonard inquires, “The question is, will we listen—this time? Or, if we pretend that we can’t hear them in our communities and our schools and our homes, bleeding beneath the fists of men who claim to love them, will they, like a tree falling in a forest, even make a sound?”

We can not lose sight. Bresha is a child: a survivor of abuse and a witness to violence in her own home, at the hands of her father,

Written by Sequoya Hayes

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Professor Sequoya Hayes has 6 years of experience as an Adjunct Professor in the Behavioral and Social Sciences. Sequoya is a licensed social worker in Illinois and Indiana. Her work as a feminist activist has centered on domestic violence awareness, intergenerational trauma, raising the visibility of issues that affect women and girls of color, self - identity and leadership skills in girls of color.

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