Cyntoia Brown, a sex trafficking victim who was serving a life sentence after killing a man when she was 16, was granted clemency earlier this month. Brown, now thirty years old, has spent the last fifteen years of her life in prison and is looking forward to being released in August. Brown was sent to prison for killing Johnny Michael Allen—who she claimed had paid her $150 to have sex, and that at some point during the encounter she feared for her life and shot Allen. Brown was then found guilty for his murder and sentenced to 51 years to life.
Brown’s incarceration just didn’t sit right with many people. Her story was widely publicized in the media during the fall of 2017 in the prime of the #MeToo movement. The public rallied around the case by using the hashtag #FreeCyntoiaBrown. People banded together because they saw this case as example of unjust incarceration of sex trafficking victims, particularly young women of color.
Celebrities like Rihanna and Kim Kardashian also spoke out publicly against her unfair sentence. Along with that, over a dozen juvenile justice advocacy groups publicly backed Brown, pointing to the 2012 Supreme Court decision in Miller v. Alabama which prohibited the sentencing of mandatory life without parole for juveniles (Schmidt 1).
I had been interested in this case since I first saw the hashtag in 2017. I remember reading about her story and thinking that it was an unjust tragedy, but I also remember thinking that most likely nothing would ever be done about it. I am proud to say that I underestimated the power of people in all this. I am truly amazed by all the different people who did what they could in order to free her. Clearly this whole process wasn’t just one specific person at work. Rather, it was groups of people using the power they had to work together.
The public did their part by retweeting, posting, and keeping this a pressing issue in the media long term. Celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Rihanna used their platform to speak out, and the public also used their power to back what those celebrities were saying. Another important aspect at play is the juvenile justice advocacy groups. These groups did their part by using factual knowledge to back the innocence of Brown.
Brown’s life sentence was unjust. She was a sex-trafficking victim. She was a women of color. She was a kid. She was someone who lacked a voice in society. Yet, through the help of so many people, her voice is now being heard all over the nation. I hope that this story is remembered for decades to come because her freedom symbolizes hope for victims of sexual abuse, women of color, and unfairly incarcerated people. Her freedom shows that the public can give voiceless people a voice and actually make our society fair. Whenever you feel as if you don’t have any power, think of this case and remember that there is always something you can do.