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The popular saying is that justice is blind, but in reality, it seems like Lady Justice often sees color. Individuals with more melanin are much more likely to suffer the maximum penalties for criminal charges. They are also less likely to be given the benefit of the doubt in situations involving self-defense.
The ludicrous prosecution of Marissa Alexander in Florida is a perfect example. A woman, whose own former partner admitted to a history of violence against her, ended up sentenced to 20 years in prison because she fired a warning shot against her abuser during an argument in her own home. Eventually, the sentence was commuted, but not before Alexander spent multiple months in prison while awaiting appeal and was eventually released. Now she advocates for others wrongfully imprisoned.
Given our country’s history of racially biased prosecution, Cytonia Brown’s conviction shouldn’t be a surprise. In fact, her conviction occurred at a point in history when the media was not paying much attention to the plight of women or people of color systemically abused and discriminated against by the criminal justice system.
In 2004, Cytonia Brown was only 16 years old. At that age, she had already been forced into sex trafficking. Her pimp, an older man named Cutthroat, sold her to another man for obvious reasons. By her own admission, Cytonia Brown chose to take action in self-defense against 43-year-old man who hired her in the parking lot of a Sonic to have sex with him for $150.
Cyntonia maintains that she became afraid for her life during their interaction, which is why she shot him and fled the scene. Because she was under the control of a ruthless pimp who had no qualms about trafficking a young teenage girl or beating her for not making enough money, she also stole the vehicle of the man she had killed, as well as some money. Prosecutors used this theft as their reasoning for charging her with murder as an adult. Even though she was a minor, unable to consent to sex with a 43-year-old man, she was still prosecuted as an adult and sentenced to between 51 years and life in prison.
Thankfully, culture has shifted to a point where most people no longer find it acceptable to imprison a teenager for her entire adult life because she fell victim to sex trafficking as a child. Cytonia Brown lost her youth to sex traffickers who used her body for personal profit. She then lost her adolescence and young adulthood to a corrupt criminal justice system that would rather incarcerate her indefinitely than treat her like the victim she was.
With cases like Marissa Alexander’s driving attention to unfair sentencing, especially when it comes to women of color who have been victims of domestic or sexual violence, Brown’s case once again became the focus of national attention. Under pressure from the press, as well as civil activists, the governor of Tennessee, Bill Haslam, finally decided to commute Cyntoia Brown’s sentence. She will get released from prison on August 7th, 2019. After that time, she will be subject to 10 years of supervised parole.
While it is ridiculous and tragic that this woman should stay in prison for 6 more months and then have her activities monitored by the criminal justice system after her release, at least she is no longer facing the rest of her life in prison. All too often, women who have been victims of violence face intense scrutiny from the public, as well as from the courts and law enforcement. This may lead to victims of violence winding up serving sentences for crimes they committed out of desperation or self-defense.
It is truly a wonderful thing that
For previousLadybud articles about criminal justice, click here.