What Happened to Cyntoia Brown?
Cyntoia Brown, was 16 at the time of the 2004 murder of a Caucasian 43-year-old Nashville Real Estate Agent, who had solicited the teen for sex. Brown claimed her innocence, providing us that the murder was in self-defense. She turned 31 on January 29th and will finally be able to celebrate her birthday outside of DOC custody next year, as she is set to be released in August.
Advocate’s for Brown reported she was forced into prostitution in fear of her life; She’d encountered mental and physical abuse at the hands of a possessive boyfriend and like many Black’s – carelessly handled and wronged by the legal system. A running theme of not believing black girls continued and as society has shown us, young Black women are not given the same right to innocence. We are immediately made fetishes and criminalized.
How Society Plays a role
Society has often times created its own dialogue about the Black community; “how can she not be guilty? She did sex work because she wanted to. Where were her parent’s? She was probably a run-away…” Even with her being a victim, she was essentially criminalized and set to receive the harshest of punishments.
Over the last few years her story regained the attention of not only the public, but mainstream celebrities, which is one of many ways the #FreeCyntoiaBrown hashtag was created. Despite the spotlight coming back to hover over her case, her 51-year sentence had begun more than a decade ago. In this time, Brown reached milestones, her 18th, 21st, 25th, and 30th birthday, all behind bars. Many, regardless if involved in sex work, feel her adolescence was stolen from her, even before handed down such a harsh sentence, given the circumstances.
Bias in the Justice System
Racial disparities within the “justice system” are deeply rooted; pervasive. It begins with unfair treatment and harsher punishments of minorities, increasing with the amount of juvenile offenders being sentenced. A large part of the racial disparity displayed is when giving juvenile life without parole. The chance of a minority receiving juvenile life without parole is higher than the chance of a white youth to get juvenile life without parole. We’ve all seen it; A white youths commit the same the crime but doesn’t receive the same reprimand, that’s if there is one at all, in comparison to the sentences given to minority youthful offenders. According to the U.S. Department of Justice “The proportion of African-Americans serving JLWOP sentences for the killing of a white person (43.4%) is nearly twice the rate at which African-American juveniles are arrested for taking a white person’s life (23.2%). Conversely, white juvenile offenders with black victims are only about half as likely (3.6%) to receive a JLWOP sentence as their proportion of arrests for killing blacks (6.4%).”
In the Beginning
August of 2006, Cyntoia Brown is convicted of murder in the first degree and robbery. Come October of that same year, Brown is sentenced to life with the possibility of parole. State officials reported the law dictated that she serve AT LEAST 51 years before becoming eligible for release. Prosecutors pushed for more time because of aggravated robbery and other factors in the crime. At this point, Brown had not been a “legal adult” for even a full year.
“7” is the number for completeness; wholeness
For nearly seven years, Cyntoia continued to fight as she could and at the beginning of last summer, more specifically May 2018,Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam was given a split recommendation on Brown’s application for clemency by the Tennessee State Board of Parole. Two members voted to recommend the governor granted clemency, allowing for Brown’s release from prison. Another two votes recommended, Haslam deny her clemency bid, meaning that Cyntoia Brown would continue to serve a life sentence. The last two votes recommended Haslam reduce Brown’s sentence, so she could be released after 25 years.
The Fight Continued: Recent timeline
Over the course of Summer 2018, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments on whether the sentence Brown received was constitutional, Governor Haslam’s legal committee began reviewing her case, and asked the Tennessee Supreme Court to clarify the state’s contradictory sentencing laws. During this time, Brown’s lawyers reported concern of conflict shown within sentencing laws; making it uncertain if she would be required to serve a full sentence or life without parole. With her lawyers posing this question, it led the panel of judges in agreement that Tennessee’s sentencing laws, were in fact, confusing and contradictory. In December 2018, The Tennessee Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision, which stated the defendant convicted of first-degree murder on or after July 1, 1995, and sentenced to life in prison, would become eligible for release after serving a minimum of 51 years in prison. Haslam reported his team would still be considering Brown’s clemency petition, with him expecting to announce a decision before his time in office had expired.
Clemency in the Present
According to Merriam Webster Dictionary, “Clemency is: The disposition to be merciful and to moderate the severity of punishment due” in which this case, as with many others, can allow the defendant to reclaim their life, once thought gone or a one up: beginning a new life. Upon hearing that Brown has a release date scheduled for August 2019, I was ecstatic for her. Merely a child;
Now, as all of this is good news, there are a lot of burning questions, in addition to realizations. Society has shown a vicious pattern of using harsher punishments for people of color and even more so, not believing or protecting Black girls and women.