Cyntoia Brown receives full clemency. She'll use her freedom to help other young girls like her.

When she was 16, Cyntoia Brown killed a man who bought her for sex. After 15 years served, she's been granted full clemency.

Cyntoia Brown's case has tested the limits of our justice system and gained the attention of criminal justice reform advocates and celebrities alike. Here's a rundown of the basics of her case:

Brown was born to a mother who abused drugs and alcohol and who placed her for adoption. As a teen, Brown ran away from her adoptive family and was taken in by a pimp, who raped her and forced her into prostitution. In 2004, a 43-year-old real estate agent, Johnny Allen, paid $150 to have sex with Brown—then 16—and took her to his home.


Brown claims that she thought the man was going to kill her, so she shot him. Prosecutors claim she killed the man in his sleep in order to steal from him, as she took money, firearms, and the man's car when she fled the murder scene.

Despite being a minor and an alleged victim of sex trafficking, Brown was tried as an adult, found guilty of murder, and sentenced to life in prison. Under Tennessee law, her first chance at parole would not arrive until 2055—when Brown would be in her late 60s.

But as one of his final acts in office, Tennessee governor Bill Haslam has granted Brown full clemency. Brown will be released from prison on August 7, 2019 and live under supervised parole for ten years.

Brown's case raised important questions about how we administer justice when convicted criminals are victims themselves—especially when they are underaged.

There is no question that Brown killed Allen. The question is how she should pay for that crime when she was legally a child at the time and the victim of multiple crimes herself. At 16, Brown was under the control of a violent pimp known as "Kut Throat," who raped her himself and was trafficking her for sex. The age of consent in Tennessee was (and still is) 18, so Allen was guilty not only of soliciting Brown as a prostitute, but also of raping her.

Should a child who has been exploited and victimized in so many ways pay the same price as an adult? In a truly just system, would a child who was the victim of heinous crimes not be granted some grace for killing someone who played an active role in her victimization?

These are the questions about Brown's case that drew advocates from across the social justice landscape to defend her as a sex trafficking victim, including Rihanna, Lebron James, and Amy Schumer.

Brown says she will use her freedom to help young girls avoid finding themselves in situations like hers.

Governor Haslam said in a statement regarding his clemency order:

“Cyntoia Brown committed, by her own admission, a horrific crime at the age of 16. Yet, imposing a life sentence on a juvenile that would require her to serve at least 51 years before even being eligible for parole consideration is too harsh, especially in light of the extraordinary steps Ms. Brown has taken to rebuild her life. Transformation should be accompanied by hope.  So, I am commuting Ms. Brown’s sentence, subject to certain conditions.”

Those conditions include undergoing counseling, getting a job, and completing community service hours.

Brown has spent part of her 15 years in prison studying, earning excellent grades in her courses, and is slated to complete her bachelor's degree from Lipscomb University in May 2019.

In a statement, Brown said, “Thank you, Governor Haslam, for your act of mercy in giving me a second chance. I will do everything I can to justify your faith in me." She also thanked "those at the Tennessee Department of Corrections who saw something in me worth salvaging..."

Brown hopes to make a difference in the lives of girls who may find themselves in circumstances like hers. "With God's help, I am committed to live the rest of my life helping others, especially young people," she said. "My hope is to help other young girls avoid ending up where I have been."

Imprisonment is meant to keep civilized society safe from dangerous criminals. Clearly this woman is not a danger to society, and keeping her behind bars would be a gross misuse of our justice system. Kudos to Governor Haslam for doing the right thing, and best of luck to Ms. Brown with her newfound freedom.

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If you wonder why the LGBTQ community holds Pride parades, look no further than Grayson Fritts.

If you don't know who Grayson Fritts is, here's a brief intro:

He's a pastor. He's a police officer. And he is on video screaming from the pulpit that the government should kill gay people.

That's not an exaggeration.

In a video of a fist-pounding sermon at All Scripture Baptist church in Knoxville, Tennessee, Fritts said that police should round up people at Pride parades, put them through a quick trial, and then put them to death.

"The Bible says the powers that be are ordained of God," he said, "and God has instilled the power of civil government to send the police in 2019 out to these LGBT FREAKS and arrest them. Have a trial for them, and if they are convicted then they are to be put to death…do you understand that? It's a capital crime to be carried out by our government. Not Christians...unless you're a policeman. Know what I mean? If you're a policeman it should be your responsibility to carry these things out."

Just FYI, this man was named "Detective of the Month" in 2017. Let that sink in for a hot second.

"Pride parades?" he continued. "Hey, call the riot teams. We got a bunch of 'em, Get the patty wagon out here, we got a bunch of 'em going to jail, we got a bunch of them that we're gonna get convicted because they've got their pride junk on and they're professing what they are, that they're a filthy animal. After this onslaught, where the government's arresting them and carrying out God's laws and they're all dead…"

And that's only part of it. You can watch five minutes of the sermon here, though I don't actually recommend it.


P.S. The church's website states that the church is "a family integrated church, meaning children of all ages are welcome in our services." So presumably, this extremist, violent hate speech was being delivered to children as well as adults. Lovely.

Grayson Fritts and his church planned a meeting for June 29 at a Cracker Barrel in Cleveland, Tennessee. The restaurant said, "Nope."

The church website lists a "Small Town Soul Winning" event for June 29 in Cleveland, Tennessee, about 80 miles southwest of Knoxville. Presumably, that's why Fritts and members of his church were planning an event at the local Cracker Barrel in town.

But according to Knox News, Cracker Barrel has turned away Fritts and his gang, citing the chain's zero-tolerance policy for "discriminatory treatment or harassment of any sort."

Cracker Barrel said it told the church it couldn't hold its event at their restaurant. "We disagree strongly with their statements of hate and divisiveness," the restaurant chain said in a statement. "We serve everyone who walks through our doors with genuine hospitality, not hate, and require all guests to do the same."

For the folks who would say, "But isn't that just Cracker Barrel discriminating against Fritts for his religious beliefs?" No. If the restaurant had said he and his fellow "Christians" couldn't eat there because they were Christian, that would be religious discrimination. It is Fritts' discrimination, hate speech, and advocating of violence that violates the company's policy of service, not his stated religious affiliation.

Businesses have the right to refuse service to customers that pose a threat other customers. No doubt, LGBTQ people eat at Cracker Barrel. Would you feel safe in an enclosed space with a presumably armed man who believes—and tries to convince others—that you should be put to death?

In a capitalist society that values free speech, businesses taking a stand can be a powerful statement.

We can debate all day long about whether hate speech should be protected under the First Amendment, but as of now, it is. One could make the argument that Fritts was inciting violence with his speech—which would make such speech not protected—but the fact that he was advocating for the government to do the violence and not for citizens to take it upon themselves may legally shield him from that argument.

I know that seems weird, but such are the realities of free speech.

However, the First Amendment only protects us from the government squashing our freedom of expression. It does not mean that a business or private entity can't decide that someone's speech is too heinous to allow in their space. Speech is not protected from other people calling you out on what you say. It's not protected from businesses or institutions deciding you're too much of an a-hole to do business with.

No one needs to be tolerant of dehumanization. No one needs to be tolerant of someone calling for innocent people's deaths because of who they are attracted to. No one should stand for that, ever.

Good for Cracker Barrel for making it clear that there is no place for such hatred at their tables.

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