Cyntoia Brown, a 30-year-old African-American woman, has been imprisoned since the age of 16 for first-degree murder in Nashville, Tenn. She was tried as an adult and convicted in 2004 for killing a 43-year-old man who attempted to rape her at his home. She killed him with his own gun.

Brown was sentenced to life in prison despite her plea of self-defense and even though she was a juvenile at the time of her trial. She won’t be eligible for parole until the age of 69!  

In response to the 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that juveniles being given mandatory life sentences is unconstitutional, the Tennessee Supreme Court stated in reference to Brown, “Under state law, a life sentence is a determinate sentence of 60 years. However, the sixty-year sentence can be reduced by up to 15 percent, or 9 years, by earning various sentence credits.” (thehill.com, Dec. 7) 

The five justices on this court went on to say that anyone convicted of first-degree murder after July 1, 1995, must serve at least 50 years of their sentence before parole is considered.  

The immensely popular singer, Rihanna, has focused global attention on Cyntoia Brown’s case on social media. She shared the following post on Instagram: “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.”

Rihanna added, “Something is horribly wrong when the system enables these rapists, and the victim is thrown away for life.”

Free Cyntoia Brown!

The case of Cyntoia Brown continues to gain tremendous attention on social media, including a mushrooming campaign demanding her release.  Moveon.org reported that at least 500,000 people have signed its petition supporting this campaign, and the number continues to grow. (For more information, go to “Free Cyntoia Brown” on Facebook and #FreeCyntoiaBrown on Twitter.)  

Brown’s case is the norm, not the exception. As long as U.S. capitalism has existed throughout its various stages of development, so has its byproducts — racism and sexual violence and their intersection. An untold number of Black women have had to bear the brunt of rape and sexual assaults, beginning under the lash of horrific slavery up until the present day.  

There was the case of Lena Baker, a daughter of Black sharecroppers and a domestic worker, who was the first woman executed in Georgia by electrocution in 1945 at age 45. Her “crime”? Killing her white boss who imprisoned her in his house while he repeatedly sexually assaulted her. The state of Georgia pardoned her in 2005.

There was the case of Joann Little, a Black woman who killed her jailer with an icepick as he attempted to rape her in a Beaufort County jail in Washington, N.C., in 1974. Activists from all over the country rallied together in a grassroots campaign around her right to self-defense against her attacker.  She eventually won her freedom in 1979.

Marissa Alexander was freed after five years of detention for “standing her ground” when she dared to defend herself from an abusive spouse in Jacksonville, Fla. in 2012, just days after giving birth to her third child.

While her spouse was unharmed when Alexander shot bullets into the ceiling to stop his ongoing domestic abuse, she was the one put on trial and sentenced to 20 years. Her prosecutor was the same attorney who defended George Zimmerman, the wannabe cop who murdered the unarmed Black teen Trayvon Martin. Alexander was eventually released in 2017 as a result of a mass campaign supporting her.  

Cyntoia Brown is one of countless victims forced into the global sex trade market as children and adults. Her outrageously inhumane sentence and imprisonment is a blatant warning on the part of the repressive state — that is, the police, the courts, the prisons — to every woman and gender-oppressed person that you could suffer the same fate as Cyntoia Brown if you dare try to defend yourself against your abuser.  

This is the same racist, male-biased state that merely gave a slap on the wrist to a sexual predator like Brock Allen Turner, a white Stanford University swimmer, who was found guilty of three counts of sexual assault and only spent three months in jail.  

Because Brown dared to say no to her assault, building a campaign to demand her freedom will bring us a step closer to getting rid of this racist, misogynist, homophobic, exploitative system that has destroyed so many lives and threatens many more.    

Monica Moorehead

Monica.Moorehead@workers.org

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Monica Moorehead
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