The Significance of Cyntoia Brown’s Clemency

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Cyntoia Brown and supporters celebrated Monday, when Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam granted her clemency, a pardon, after she had served 15 years in prison. In 2006, Brown was tried as an adult and sentenced to life in prison for shooting and killing Johnny Mitchell Allen, who paid Brown for sex when she was 16. At that point, said that she had been raped by a boyfriend who forced her into prostitution, and that she killed Allen when she saw him reaching for a gun while they were in bed. Brown’s advocates say that in addition to being a victim of child sex trafficking, Brown’s age and fetal alcohol syndrome made it impossible for her to consider the full ramifications of her actions. Brown, now 30, is set to be released on Aug. 7 and will be on parole for the next ten years.

You might now say, “Okay, so what?” Well, imagine if you were in the same situation. You have already been raped, drugged and sexually trafficked and a 43-year-old picks you up in his car. It turns out that he is actually one of your “customers” that you’ve never agreed to have. After all you’ve been through, you already feel in danger. When he lets his guard down while you are sleeping in his bed, fearing for the safety of your life, you shoot him to protect yourself. Should you be criminalized?

Cyntoia Brown’s case has inspired movements like Black Lives Matter, Color of Change, Highlander Center and the #MeToo to free young women, especially African Americans – as this is a common case in their communities, like Brown after being unfairly criminalized for missing the context of their situations. For whatever your thoughts are, in any situation, put yourself in their shoes first and then decide where you stand.