By Rosetta Miller Perry
The story of Cyntoia Brown is one of horrible mistreatment, so much so that everyone from celebrities to major magazines and filmmakers have become her champions. Over 13 years ago Brown was a victim of something too many like to celebrate and mythologize in our community: a sordid pimp. As a 16-year-old she became part of “Kutthroat’s” sex trafficking network. She was abused in multiple ways, verbally and physically as well as sexually, before being sold to a disgusting 43-year-old Nashville realtor, Johnny Allen.
Allen took Brown to his home and began using her for sex once more. Brown finally snapped after being both kidnapped and constantly raped. She shot and killed him. Both Newsweek magazine and the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) have documented the facts in this case. But in spite of this horror story, Brown, who was still truly a child despite undergoing this treatment, was not only charged but tried and convicted as an adult. She was found guilty of prostitution and murder, even though it was clearly a situation of being forced into this life. Making matters worse was her sentence, which would keep her imprisoned and not eligible for parole until the age of 69.
Documentary filmmaker Dan Birman heard about this miscarriage of justice and decided to act. He made the shocking film “Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s story,” which has since become nationally acclaimed. Birman also went on social media to share a photo of Brown, one that has since gone viral and reached thousands, including such celebrities as Rihanna and Kim Kardashian.
Rihanna added this comment to the post: “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!”
Kardashian, for a change spurred to action by something substantive, announced that she was contacting her personal attorneys to help Brown. “The system has failed,” She told WGN TV. “It’s heartbreaking 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 to see what can be done to fix this. #FreeCyntoia Brown.”
On one hand, some good has come out of this nightmare. A law was created in 2011 that anyone 18 or younger can NOT be charged with prostitution. But sadly, the law wasn’t designed to grandfather Brown into it. Though had what happened to her occurred now she would be considered a human trafficking victim, she remains behind bars. Since being incarcerated Brown has earned an associate’s degree from Lipscomb, and is now working on a bachelor’s degree. When interviewed recently by WZTV-17 in Nashville she said “I myself can create opportunities to help people (behind bars).”
But right now it is time for people to help Cyntoia Brown. There is a clemency campaign underway asking Tennessee Governor Haslam and the Parole Board to closely examine the facts of her case and grant her clemency so she can be freed. There are more than 200,000 signatures on a petition that is going to the President and Congress when it reaches 225,000. Anyone interested can go to https://petitions/moveon.org/sign/free-cyntoia-brown for more information.
This is really a matter of simple justice. Anyone closely examining this case will instantly see that this young woman reacted to stop Allen from further exploiting and abusing her. How and why a jury ever convicted her is both baffling and terribly wrong. The Tribune is asking the Governor and Parole Board to immediately get involved in this case, and do the only thing that is right: free Cyntoia Brown.
We also hope certain individuals in our community stop making folk heroes of pimps in songs and movies. They are vile, disgusting criminals who are exploiting and ruining young girls, and should be ostracized and driven out of our neighborhoods rather than embraced as romantic businessmen.
Most importantly, it is long past time Cyntoia Brown was released. Every day she remains in prison is one more the awful injustices that have been part of her life for decades continue.