The facts of the case are simply horrifying: Cyntoia Brown was a child of 16 in Nashville, Tennessee when she was sex-trafficked by a pimp named “Kut-throat.” Just days after being repeatedly drugged and raped by different men, a 43-year-old real estate agent purchased her for sex and took her to his home. When she feared for her life, she acted in self defense and killed him.
Cyntoia survived this trauma and a childhood of unspeakable violence. She found the courage to save her own life, but the state of Tennessee put her on trial as an adult for first degree murder. This week, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that Cyntoia will have to serve 51 years before she is eligible for release.
My demand is simple: free Cyntoia Brown.
As of right now, Cyntoia has already served 14 years in prison. Cyntoia is living proof of the harm our “justice” system does to so many girls and women of color. While so many white men are given a mere slap on the wrist for violence against women, Cyntoia and thousands of young women of color who have survived violence are incarcerated and given staggeringly harsh sentences.
Cyntoia was just eight months old when she entered the foster care system. She became a runaway as a teenager, suffering multiple assaults and rapes as a result. That’s when she was targeted by sex traffickers, who put her in the dangerous circumstances that led to her current imprisonment.
Cyntoia has been failed again and again by the authorities who pledge to protect her and other children: first by the foster system and now by the courts. We will continue to fail her if she isn’t freed.
Cyntoia’s situation reminds us exactly how the mass incarceration industry in this country works — it’s meant to cause instability, separation, and violence to communities of color, by design. This is what we must remember when we examine our prisons and immigrant detention centers, and the corporations whose profits depend on them.
Black women and girls are routinely targeted by these systems for someone else’s profit. The companies that run private prisons, like GEO Group, Inc., make millions off of putting Black women and girls behind bars.
Put Cyntoia’s situation next to that of police officers who kill on duty. In this year alone, almost 1,000 people were killed by the police. Yet, only 80 cops between 2015 and 2017 were even put under trial.
The common defense offered by police when they kill an unarmed Black person is that they were acting in self-defense. This is doubly harmful because it reinforces the pervasive, false notion that Black people are a public menace simply because they are Black, and thus cops must have been in danger.
That same trope of Black folks being inhereently dangerous was.at play in Lena Baker’s case. Baker was a Black woman convicted in 1944 for killing her employer, a white man who enslaved her and forced her to have sex with him.
Baker was executed for her act of self defense. Sixty years after the government ended Lena Baker’s life, she was pardoned. We can’t let Cyntoia suffer the same wrongful punishment – regrets will never be enough.
Cyntoia Brown deserves freedom – not only from her prison cell, but from the centuries-old cultural norms that unjustly determine her circumstances. Thousands of young girls of color like her are similarly trapped in the inherited prejudices of other people.
We can’t erase the traumas that Cyntoia has endured, or give her back the fourteen years she’s been imprisoned, but we can fight to set her free, and ensure that she doesn’ t face the same injustice as Lena Baker.
So far, over ten thousand people have taken action to ask Tennessee’s Republican Governor, Bill Haslam, to offer clemency to Cyntoia. He’s the only person with the power to grant her freedom.
It’s clear that the public recognizes the injustices Cyntoia has faced, and supports her. This is a fight we know we can win.
We can only do it through the collective power of individuals, like you, who decide to take a stand. Every action counts. We can free Cyntoia Brown, if we act now and raise our voices in time.