Image: Black Lives Matter Nashville

Black Lives Matter Nashville, along with activists nationwide, has started a campaign asking the public to pressure Tennessee’s outgoing governor to grant clemency to Cyntoia Brown, a sex trafficking victim currently serving a life sentence for first-degree murder.

In 2004, when she was 16, Brown was convicted in the first-degree murder of 43-year-old Johnny Allen, who is alleged to have hired the then teenager for the purposes of paying her for sex. At the time, Brown was a victim of sex trafficking and was reportedly being abused emotionally and physically by a pimp who often held her at gunpoint.

She was granted a clemency hearing earlier this year but her petition was eventually denied by the Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole. Although the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that life sentences without the possibility of parole for juveniles are unconstitutional, the Tennessee Supreme Court later said that Brown would have to serve at least 51 years of her sentence before she is granted parole.

Now Black Lives Matter Nashville has issued a call for citizens to ask Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam to grant her clemency before he leaves office. Haslam announced that he is looking into the matter and is weighing whether he will use his powers to free Brown before his term expires in January.

Advertisement

“The Tennessee Supreme Court’s recent ruling in the case of Cyntoia Brown testifies to the continued harm and injustice within our current penal system,” Black Lives Matter Nashville said in a statement. “[W]e declare that this is a case of Human Rights,” it wrote, adding:

A system that disproportionately and intimately harms People of Color, women, and other marginalized peoples is a matter of Human Rights. A system that allows the state of Tennessee to have a unique sentencing of 51 years is a matter of human rights.”

Governor Bill Haslam has the opportunity to exercise his power on behalf of the people.

Black Lives Matter Nashville calls on Governor Bill Haslam to grant Cyntoia Brown immediate clemency.

We invite Tennesseans and the broader community to contact Governor Haslam at (615) 741-2001 to demand #Clemency4CyntoiaBrown.

Advertisement

The group has issued a set of three phone scripts, available here, asking citizens in Tennessee and around the country to call Haslam and other state representatives in Tennessee to ask the governor to grant clemency for Cyntoia Brown.

At an event earlier this month, Haslam told Black Lives Matter demonstrators that his office has been looking into the matter but has not given an indication whether or not he will exercise his powers of executive clemency to pardon Brown, which is a formal statement of forgiveness but does not clear her record. Haslam could also choose to commute her sentence to a shorter term, including time served.