‘Women for Cyntoia’ held a press conference Thursday seeking clemency for Cyntoia Brown, and asking supporters to continue to call, write letters, and send emails to Gov. Haslam.
Sen.-elect Brenda Gilmore was joined by Min. Misha Maynard, COO Cathedral of Praise Church; Francie Hunt, executive director of Tenn. Advocates for Planned Parenthood; and Darlene Leong Neal, Women’s March Tenn. coordinator to ask the governor to grant a release to Brown before he leaves office on January 19, saying: “It is the right thing to do for this young woman.”
Women for Cyntoia was also joined by Rev. Keith Caldwell, president of the Nashville NAACP; Rev. Judy Cummings, senior pastor for New Covenant Christian Church, and other elected officials and community activists.
In 2004, Cyntoia Brown was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the killing of Johnny Mitchell Allen. Brown, who was only 16 at the time and a sex trafficking victim, was in fear for her life and defended herself against a 43-year-old armed child predator who had kidnapped and sexually assaulted her.
The effort for Brown’s freedom has garnered national attention. Recently the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that Brown must serve 51 years in prison before she’s eligible for release.
Gilmore opened the conference with a question: “Why do we treat children who are victims of sex trafficking as criminals?”
“Cyntoia has already served almost 15 years in prison,” she said. “To keep her in prison for 51 years is another travesty to a young victim of sexual exploitation. She was a 16-year-old child who was homeless, trapped in prostitution, and a victim of child sex trafficking. During August 2004, Cyntoia found herself in bed with an adult man, and believing her life was in danger, she shot and killed him.”
According to Gilmore, while incarcerated, Brown has successfully completed an associate’s degree from Lipscomb University, been a role model to other inmates, and managed to regain her self-confidence that was robbed of her by a life of prostitution.
“In the interest of justice, Cyntoia should be set free immediately,” she said. “It’s the right thing to do for this young woman”
“As a minister, I don’t condone taking another person’s life, but I believe that justice has been served,” said Rev. Misha Maynard. “The time is now, Gov. Haslam. I pray that God will touch your heart and change your heart and grant her full clemency.”
Maynard also called for further advocacy for sex trafficking victims: “We have to continue to unite, speak up and speak up not only just for her but for your daughters, your granddaughters, your sisters, your coworkers, your friends and yourself. Un-mute your voice and amplify Cyntoia’s.”
Rev. Judy Cummings called for Gov. Haslam to grant Cyntoia a ‘do-over:’
“[She was] trafficked by a man named cutthroat, a victim of a terror attack, terrorized by anything we could ever imagine. Tried as an adult rather than being tried as a child,” Cummings said. “Today we have an opportunity to do what is right. The governor has the opportunity to grant her a ‘do-over.’ Every now and then we have a chance to do a do-over. Thousands of your constituents have asked you to do a do-over, to do what is right, to give her mercy. The mercy she did not receive, but the mercy that is due her.”
At the conference, Rev. Keith Caldwell said that serving more time in prison would be unjust to Cyntoia. Caldwell asked the governor how he would feel if Cyntoia was his daughter or sister.
“The question is not what if, it’s that she is,” said Caldwell. “She’s all of our daughters and she’s a child of God. We need to do the right thing by her and we need to do it now.”
Others on hand discussed putting forth legislation to change the laws so that the circumstances endured by underage sex trafficking victim’s can be used to help mitigate sentences.
January has been designated National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.
“It’s ironic that we are observing National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, and at the same time we’re advocating for someone who is a victim of human trafficking,” said Sen.-elect Gilmore.
This article originally appeared in the Nashville Pride.