Artists, celebrities, and civil rights advocates are bringing renewed attention to the case of Cyntoia Brown, a sex trafficking victim who's serving life in prison for killing one of the men who purchased her when she was a 16-year-old child.
"Her story," writes journalist Dave A. Love, "is the story of what is wrong with America, with its criminal justice system, and the way it treats its children—its most vulnerable Black girls."
Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color of Change, echoed that statement, writing on Twitter Wednesday that "her story shows us that the criminal justice system has failed yet another Black woman," and that "We must stop blaming victims for the crimes of their perpetrators."
When a young woman is drugged, trafficked, and abused for years, they should not be the one facing life in prison. We must stop blaming victims for the crimes of their perpetrators. #FreeCyntoiaBrown #SayHerName 2/2
— Rashad Robinson (@rashadrobinson) November 22, 2017
Now 29, Brown has already spent a huge chunk of her young life behind bars, having been convicted in 2006 of the first degree murder of Johnny Mitchell Allen, a 43-year-old Nashville real estate agent. She won't be eligible for parole until she's 69.
A report from the Tennessean from 2016 states that
[d]uring her murder trial, testimony included the fact she had been raped multiple times in her young life and had been born to a mother who admitted drinking heavily throughout her pregnancy. Brown had been in and out of the custody of the Department of Children’s Services for years. At the time of the crime, she was living in a Trinity Lane motel room with her boyfriend, who profited from Brown's prostitution.
That boyfriend was a 24-year-old known as "Cut-throat" who "abused her physically and sexually," the Associated Press previously reported.
"He would explain to me that some people were born whores, and that I was one, and I was a slut, and nobody'd want me but him, and the best thing I could do was just learn to be a good whore," she testified.
[Cut-throat] forced her to prostitute herself so that they would have money to live, she said. On the day she met Allen—Aug. 5, 2004—the man she called Cut had hit her and told her to go out and bring back some money.
Allen picked up teenage Brown on the street in his truck and brought her to his home. Fearing her safety, she shot Allen in bed.
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As Newsweek reports, "A photo that carried a caption loosely detailing Brown's controversial trial surfaced online on Monday and went viral. It was shared by stars like Kim Kardashian, Rihanna, T.I and several others."
Many are using the hashtag #FreeCyntoiaBrown on social media to draw attention to her plight:
did we somehow change the definition of #JUSTICE along the way?? cause..... Something is horribly wrong when the system enables these rapists and the victim is thrown away for life! To each of you responsible for this child's sentence I hope to God you don't have children, because this could be your daughter being punished for punishing already! #FREECYNTOIABROWN #HowManyMore
I am saddened and disgusted by our system. After all she endured she is now imprisoned for life? For finally having the courage to fight back? #FreeCyntoiaBrown
— Ariel Winter (@arielwinter1) November 22, 2017
— Iman Abdulmajid (@The_Real_IMAN) November 22, 2017
— Reverend Al Sharpton (@TheRevAl) November 21, 2017
Imprisoning children for years and years without any regard to abuse and trauma is just another layer of trauma caused by the criminal justice system. Tennessee is one of many states that locks up children with mandatory sentences. #CyntoiaBrown https://t.co/A0zNbjdZhp
— ColorOfChange.org (@ColorOfChange) November 22, 2017
A MoveOn.org petition entitled Free Cyntoia Brown is garnering signatures calling for her clemency by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam. As of this writing, it has gathered over 228,000 signatures.
Birman's film did help to change the law. Now in Tennessee, the court would treat Brown as a child human trafficking victim.