This morning, numerous celebrities took to social media to speak out about the hearbreaking case of Cyntoia Brown, who was arrested in 2004 at the age of 16 for killing Johnny Allen. While the case is a complex one, an oversimplified version is this: Brown's upbringing led her to be violently forced into prostitution as a minor, resulting in her being repeatedly assaulted, drugged and raped, all leading up to her going home with Allen, whom she shot when he pulled out a gun, believing that he meant to kill her. You can read more about Brown's story here, and watch her documentary on PBS. The harrowing tale sheds an ugly light on how the US justice system (and our culture as a whole) continues to punish victims—especially those of socio-economic circumstance.
Brown was tried as an adult, and given a life sentence—which, under Tennessee Law, means she will not be able to serve parole for 51 years. She will be 67 years-old then.
It's unclear why Kim Kardashian, Rihanna, T.I., and others chose today to bring attention to this case, but it is likely to do with an infographic floating around on social media detailing Brown's story. Those who are weary of "thoughts and prayers" posts for everything that's gone wrong in 2017 will be pleased to know that Kardashian pledged to take action with her condolences as well. "The system has failed," she said in a tweet. "It’s heart breaking to see a young girl sex trafficked then when she has the courage to fight back is jailed for life! We have to do better & do what’s right. I’ve called my attorneys yesterday to see what can be done to fix this."
Rihanna took to Instagram to lament the loss of justice in our country: "did we somehow change the definition of #JUSTICE along the way?? cause..... Something is horribly wrong when the system enables these rapists and the victim is thrown away for life! To each of you responsible for this child's sentence I hope to God you don't have children, because this could be your daughter being punished for punishing already!"
While Brown's case is one among many, we can only hope that continued attention from the media, celebrities, and the public can encourage our legislators to make some real changes in the justice system—and that this trend toward calling out injustices extends far past 2017. You can sign a petition to reopen and appeal Brown's case here.