Cyntoia Brown still waits for any news about clemency. (Lacy Atkins / The Tennessean)
Cyntoia Brown still waits for any news about clemency.

Lacy Atkins / The Tennessean

How the System Failed Cyntoia Brown

December 14, 2018

On December 6, Cyntoia Brown was sentenced to 51 years in prison for the first degree murder of Johnny Mitchell Allen. The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that Brown must serve her 51 years before she is eligible for parole.

Who is Cyntoia Brown and what happened?

Cyntoia Brown’s childhood has been rocky from beginning. Born to an alcoholic mother, Brown’s impulse control and thought processing was hazy and unstable. She was later found to be on the fetal alcohol spectrum. At only 8-months-old, Brown was placed in the foster care system and ran away as a teenager. Around this time, Brown was continuously sexually assaulted by the men she encountered.

At the age of 16, Cyntoia Brown began living with a 24-year-old man nicknamed “Cut-Throat” who physically, mentally, and sexually abused her. Eventually, he forced Brown into prostitution and demanded that she always returned with money.

That fateful night on August 6, 2004, Cyntoia Brown was ordered to go out and “get money.” At a Sonic’s parking lot, Brown met a 43-year-old man named Allen, who agreed to give her $150 and ended up driving both of them to his home — the location where Brown would shoot Allen.

According to Refinery29, a day after, Nashville Police received an emergency call and found Allen’s dead body in his home. The morning of August 8, police found his white pick-up truck in a parking lot. Authorities linked this back to Cyntoia Brown and arrested her, finding Allen’s wallets and guns in her possession. Brown gave up her right to remain silent and immediately explained that Allen had solicited her for sex only to become violent with her later. Out of fear and self-defense, she shot him with a .40-caliber handgun.

Why is this an issue?

Cyntoia Brown, at the time of the murder was only 16 years old. Police claimed that Brown’s actual intentions were to go home with Allen and rob him. Brown stated that she only took Allen’s wallet because she feared going back empty-handed to Cut-Throat.

One would think the law would side in her favor for being a minor; however, Tennessee law and U.S. law have completely changed when it comes to prosecuting minors.

The entire case has sparked an outrage amongst the public with many going to social media to raise awareness about the injustice. Many claimed her sentence of 51 years was just as equivalent as the life sentence in Tennessee, which is 60 years, and argued that it was cruel and unusual punishment for a girl of only 16 years. Just recently, Tennessee’s Supreme Court stated that her sentence was not unconstitutional because technically, it’s not a life sentence.

The hashtag, #FreeCyntoiaBrown, became a trending topic on Twitter. Celebrities such as Rihanna, Kim Kardashian West, and Cara Delevingne have stated their opinions on the case. Rihanna shared a post about Brown’s story on her Instagram, with a caption reading: “Imagine at the age of 16 being sex-trafficked by a pimp named ‘cut-throat.’ After days of being repeatedly drugged and raped by different men you were purchased by a 43 year old child predator who took you to his home to use you for sex. You end up finding enough courage to fight back and shoot and kill him.”

Brown is a clear victim of sex trafficking and suffered many years of abuse. Her sentence is definitely unconstitutional based on the 2012 Supreme Court decision that states life sentences for minors violate the 8th Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Brown’s first trial was also flawed and “prejudiced by the fact that she was a woman of color engaging in sex work,” according to Refinery29. Tennessee law now states that children under the age of 18 cannot be tried for prostitution. So, put the pieces together: if Cyntoia Brown was arrested today, she would be treated as a human trafficking victim, not a murderer.

Cyntoia Brown has been incarcerated for 14 years now and awaits a grant for clemency from Tennessee governor, Bill Haslam.


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