After 15 years, Cyntoia Brown is being released from prison for killing her sex trafficker. On Monday, Governor Bill Haslam of Tennessee granted Brown clemency stating that the punishment of a life sentence was too extreme for someone of her age.
However, it wasn’t just the grace of Governor Haslam that freed Brown, but the tireless work and years of protest from activists that put on the pressure for Brown to be released.
Brown’s early childhood consisted of sexual abuse and sex trafficking. It was this life that led her to be convicted of murder and robbery after an act of self-defense from a man who solicited her for prostitution.
In 2006, she was tried and sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole until she served 51 years of her sentence.
It was this harsh sentence that did not take into account her age and circumstances at the time that sparked an outcry among activities and celebrities alike, calling for her release.
In 2011, PBS released “Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story,” a short film documenting Brown’s traumatic childhood, her violent entry into the justice system, and her personal reflections while in prison.
Brown’s story went viral in 2017, with activists and celebrities using the hashtag #FreeCyntoiaBrown. This sparked a larger national conversation about the sexual abuse-to-prison pipeline that threatens many young black women’s lives.
In the U.S. juvenile justice system, 33.2 percent of girls detained and committed are African-American. In 2017, there were 219,000 women in U.S. prisons and jails, most of them women of color from low income communities.
Last year, Brown’s request for clemency was denied in May and again in early December. This ignited even more public outcry and moved the NAACP Youth and College Division to call for a National Week of Action and create #CyntoniaDay on Friday, Dec., 12, 2018.
A coalition formed by Color of Change, MeTooMVMT, and Black Lives Matter Nashville created the freecyntoniabrown.org website and #Clemency4CyntoiaBrown. They called for national days of action including a day to call Tennessee’s governor and political officials, to write letters to elected representatives, and a day to write letters to Brown.
The victory, as tweeted by Stacey Abrams, belongs to Cyntonia Brown and the human trafficking activists, especially black women, who organized to create change.