If you haven’t heard about her case, this you must know: Her story 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.
No one protected Cyntoia Brown, a victim of child trafficking and a sex slave who, at 16, killed a man who bought her for sex. The real crime was her sentence, and the fact that she went to prison at all.
In 2004, Cyntoia was arrested in Tennessee for the murder of Johnny Mitchell Allen, 43, a Nashville real estate agent and child predator who paid to have sex with the teen. Allen drove Brown to his house in his pickup truck. She shot him in the back of the head, in bed, with a .40-caliber gun after she reportedly feared for her life.
The 2011 PBS documentary, Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story, details what this young woman suffered. Brown was living with a 24-year old drug dealer, pimp and armed robber named “Cut-throat,” who forced her into prostitution. She was regularly raped, choked, beaten and drugged.
Born with fetal alcohol syndrome to a white teen mother with a history of intergenerational abuse who was unable to take care of her, Brown’s childhood was one of psychological trauma, of physical and sexual violence. The girl confessed to the killing and did not have legal representation. She was tried as an adult, and the jury was not told of her mental disability.
In 2006, Brown was found guilty and sentenced to life with the possibility of parole after 51 years, meaning she is not eligible for parole until age 69.
Thirteen years later and Cyntoia Brown remains in the Tennessee Prison for Women. Despite all this, she earned her associate’s degree behind bars through Lipscomb University, and is pursuing her bachelor’s.
Celebrities are spreading the word about what is being done to Cyntoia Brown. Kim Kardashian took to Twitter to speak out against the injustice:
The system has failed. It’s heart breaking to see a young girl sex trafficked then when she has the courage to fight back is jailed for life! We have to do better & do what’s right. I’ve called my attorneys yesterday to see what can be done to fix this. #FreeCyntoiaBrown pic.twitter.com/73y26mLp7u
— Kim Kardashian West (@KimKardashian) November 21, 2017
TI and Rihanna sowed their support for Cyntoia on Instagram:
Meanwhile, a MoveOn petition to free Cyntoia Brown is closing in on 200,000 signatures. Brown’s life sentence is an outrage, and some say illegal, in light of a Supreme Court decision banning mandatory life without parole for juveniles. America is the only nation that still allows a life sentence without parole for offenders under 18.
And poor Black people–Black children and adults– are the majority of those spending the rest of their lives behind bars. Tennessee’s 51-to-life sentence, which Brown received, is a virtual life sentence. That’s especially harsh for a victim who was forced into prostitution as an underage girl, deprived of her childhood and has suffered so much.
What does this tell you about America when a Black girl, an abused child sex slave, is punished with a life sentence for killing her abuser? This is the country that sends molested children to prison and throws away the key. But if you’re an accused pedophile, you have a shot at the U.S. Senate if not the White House. How about that? And I beg you to tell me I’m wrong.
Follow David A. Love on Twitter at @davidalove.