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What's Free? Cyntoia Brown Has Been Sentenced 51 Years For Killing The Man That Trafficked Her

What's Free? Cyntoia Brown Has Been Sentenced 51 Years For Killing The Man That Trafficked Her

Human Interest

Cyntoia Brown, a 30-year-old woman from Tennessee who has been imprisoned since she was 16 years old for killing the man who allegedly solicited her for sex, has just been served a life sentence. Cyntoia has been sentenced by the Tennessee Supreme Court to serve an additional 51 years in prison before she will be a free woman. This is a result of her year-long battle to overturn her initial conviction of first-degree premeditated murder, first-degree felony murder, and aggravated robbery, and the subsequent sentencing of life in prison at 16 years old.

Cyntoia's life story has been nothing short of heartbreaking, as she was placed for adoption at two years old, where her journey was riddled by sexual abuse, physical abuse, verbal abuse, and substance abuse. As a teenager, she was sold into the treacherous world of sex trafficking by a 43-year-old pimp "Cut Throat" who forced her into prostitution where she was subjected to even more abuse. In the documentary about her circumstances Me Facing Life: Cyntoia's Story, she gives a glimpse into the paranoia that accompanies such a horrendous experience, making it impossible for viewers not to empathize with her situation.

Nonetheless, initially in 2004, during her adolescence years, she was tried as an adult for shooting her abuser who she thought would kill her first. The Root describes her accounts during the trial:

"She said there was always a gun pointed on her during her captivity. She said she was hit, choked and dragged. She feared for her own life, and she acted out of that fear."

Cyntoia has since served 14 years in prison.

Her story has caught the attention of many people, including celebrities who lobbied for her release such as Kim Kardashian West and Rihanna. Kim even backed her legal team affording her the same defense as O.J Simpson. CNN reports that she was granted a clemency hearing in May, when at first the Board of Parole could not reach a definite answer, and then later unanimously decided to have her complete 51 years before she is to be free.

Lacy Atkins/The Tennessean via AP Photo

Though I am no judge, it is hard to believe that it is constitutional for a woman with such a background of abuse at the hands of the slain be detained until she is about 69 years of age. The sentence itself seems excessive, cruel, unusual, and quite frankly it seems to be a message that the legal sentence is trying to send to Black women: you do not matter.

Though the district court pointed out she wasn't sentenced to "life without parole" and just a life sentence, it burns to know that a human life can be valued so little. Regardless of the undertone of defeat that this sentence bears, we must continue to uplift and validate each other in sisterhood. Cyntoia's life matters, and each day that she is imprisoned is a reminder of the struggle of power within the justice system.

Make no mistake, our voices are also powerful and we will keep her name on our lips, spreading her story, and expressing our outrage at this injustice:

Featured image by Jae S. Lee/AP via CNN.

Black Women, We Deserve More

When the NYT posted an article this week about the recent marriage of a Black woman VP of a multi-billion-dollar company and a Black man who took her on a first date at the parking lot of a Popeyes, the reaction on social media was swift and polarizing. The two met on Hinge and had their parking lot rendezvous after he’d canceled their first two dates. When the groom posted a photo from their wedding on social media, he bragged about how he never had “pressure” to take her on “any fancy dates or expensive restaurants.”

It’s worth reading on your own to get the full breadth of all the foolery that transpired. But the Twitter discourse it inspired on what could lead a successful Black woman to accept lower than bare minimum in pursuit of a relationship and marriage, made me think of the years of messaging that Black women receive about how our standards are too high and what we have to “bring to the table” in order to be "worthy" of what society has deemed is the ultimate showing of our worth: a marriage to a man.

That's right, the first pandemic I lived through was not Covid, but the pandemic of the Black male relationship expert. I was young – thirteen to be exact – when Steve Harvey published his best-selling book Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man. Though he was still just a stand-up comedian, oversized suit hoarder, and man on his third marriage at the time, his relationship advice was taken as the gospel truth.

The 2000s were a particularly bleak time to be a single Black woman. Much of the messaging –created by men – that surrounded Black women at the time blamed their desire for a successful career and for a partner that matched their drive and ambition for the lack of romance in their life. Statistics about Black women’s marriageability were always wielded against Black women as evidence of our lack of desirability.

It’s no wonder then that a man that donned a box cut well into the 2000s was able to convince women across the nation to not have sex for the first three months of a relationship. Or that a slew of other Black men had their go at telling Black women that they’re not good enough and why their book, seminar, or show will be the thing that makes them worthy of a Good Man™.

This is how we end up marrying men who cancel twice before taking us on a “date” in the Popeyes parking lot, or husbands writing social media posts about how their Black wife is not “the most beautiful” or “the most intelligent” or the latest season of trauma dumping known as Black Love on OWN.

Now that I’ve reached my late twenties, many things about how Black women approach dating and relationships have changed and many things have remained the same. For many Black women, the idea of chronic singleness is not the threat that it used to be. Wanting romance doesn’t exist in a way that threatens to undermine the other relationships we have with our friends, family, and ourselves as it once did, or at least once was presented to us. There is a version of life many of us are embracing where a man not wanting us, is not the end of what could still be fruitful and vibrant life.

There are still Black women out there however who have yet to unlearn the toxic ideals that have been projected onto us about our worthiness in relation to our intimate lives. I see it all the time online. The absolute humiliation and disrespect some Black women are willing to stomach in the name of being partnered. The hoops that some Black women are willing to jump through just to receive whatever lies beneath the bare minimum.

It's worth remembering that there are different forces at play that gather to make Black women feast off the scraps we are given. A world saturated by colorism, fatphobia, anti-Blackness, ableism, and classism will always punish Black women who demand more for themselves. Dismantling these systems also means divesting from any and everything that makes us question our worth.

Because truth be told, Black women are more than worthy of having a love that is built on mutual respect and admiration. A love that is honey sweet and radiates a light that rivals the sun. A love that is a steadying calming force that doesn’t bring confusion or anxiety. Black women deserve a love that is worthy of the prize that we are.

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Featured image: Getty Images

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