By Seth Tamarkin, Contributing Writer
A week ago, if someone were to ask the average person who Cyntoia Brown was, there’s a large chance they’d have no idea. With the power of social media activism, however, it feels like Americans everywhere are protesting for her freedom from a murder case in 2004.
The now twenty-nine-year old shot and killed a man who allegedly hired her for sex when she was only sixteen, but her prosecutors contend that she was not a victim in any capacity. Their reason is that she shot the man while he was sleeping, showing that she had time to escape if she wanted to and that the murder was premediated.
Furthermore, the teen subsequently ran off with the victim’s wallet, a few of his guns, and his pickup truck after the murder and drove to a Walmart parking lot where she asked someone else to pick her up. Authorities got her instead. Her lawyers argued she was acting in self-defense when she shot the victim. Their case wasn’t enough though, and after being tried as an adult Brown was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole until she is sixty-nine-years old.
What the prosecutors failed to mention during the trial though was that she suffered a horribly abusive life prior to the killing.
From a very young age, Brown’s mother had left her and she was forced into prostitution by a pimp named Cut Throat. To make matters worse, her attorney in 2012 showed data that she was diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder, leaving her with “a damaged brain which caused her to experience the world through the mind of a ten-year-old child,” according to the habeas corpus petition. She also didn’t give her own testimony. One can’t help but think that information would have prevented the long sentence handed to her.
An original prosecutor from her case, Preston Shipp, even agreed that her original sentence was too cruel, according to Newsweek. At a side job as a teacher in a women’s prison, Shipp unknowingly taught his former defendant and formed a friendship with her because of her “tenacity and smarts.” She currently holds an associate degree from Lipscomb University, a school that teaches at prisons. After realizing he was the one who put Brown in prison, he quit prosecuting altogether, citing his disgust with a system that imposed such hard verdicts on inmates he noticed “wanted to redeem themselves.” “I never thought I would befriend a defendant from one of my cases,” Shipp said, “I felt compelled to make a change in my career. It became impossible for me to be a cog in the wheel of a strictly punitive system.”
As sad as it is to say, extreme sentences are doled out every day with little protest from the outside world. What made this case go viral, however, was that Rihanna caught wind of the case a couple of days ago and promptly put out an Instagram post protesting the harsh sentence she received. Within days, celebrities like T.I., Snoop Dogg, Lebron James, and Cara Delevingne released statements of their own supporting Brown. Kim Kardashian even went as far as to hire her personal legal team to help Cyntoia.
With the outpouring of support Cyntoia Brown has received, her case has been thrust into the national spotlight. The case is not black-and-white though, which will make it a challenge for any court system to overturn, let alone the notoriously conservative Tennessee court system. For now, supporters of Cyntoia Brown should continue to protest for her freedom and not let up, and hopefully justice will be served.