Things That Matter

Cyntoia Brown Was Finally Released From Prison After 15 Years– This Is What Resistance Looks Like

After spending almost half her life behind bars, Cyntoia Brown was released on parole early Wednesday morning, according to the Tennessee Department of Corrections.  Brown, who was sentenced to life in prison when she was 16 years old after killing a man who allegedly forced her into sex, served 15 years in the Tennessee Prison for Women. 

Now, at 31, she is slated to begin her life on parole for the next 10 years.

As part of her parole, Brown is required to maintain employment or educational enrollment, participate in regular counseling sessions and perform at least 50 hours of community service, including working with at-risk youth.

Brown earned her associate degree from Lipscomb University in 2015 with a 4.0 GPA, obtained a bachelor’s degree in the Tennessee Prison for Women in May and has regularly worked with the state’s juvenile justice system to help counsel young people at risk. Her case gained national attention last December when a Tennessee Supreme Court ruled she would have to serve 51 years in prison before being eligible for parole. High-profiled celebrities like Rihanna, Kim Kardashian West, Lebron James and Cara Delevingne joined choirs of activists and outraged citizens advocating for her release and funding legal support.

“Something his (sic) horribly wrong when the system enables these rapists and the victim is thrown away for life,” Rihanna captioned a post on Instagram in November 2017.

Kardashian West shared the pop star’s post on Twitter

 “The system has failed. Its heartbreaking to see 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,” she added. 

With mounting pressure, former Gov. Bill Haslam took the rare step of commuting Brown’s sentence earlier this year.

In January, Haslan called the sentence “too harsh,” especially considering the “extraordinary steps” she had “taken to rebuild her life” while incarcerated.

“I thank Governor and First Lady Haslam for their vote of confidence in me and with the Lord’s help I will make them, as well as the rest of my supporters, proud,” Brown said in a statement released Monday, as reported by USA Today.

Before her release, which occurred at 3 a.m. on Wednesday, she met with counselors to create a plan for her life outside of prison. According to Tennessee’s Department of Corrections, the proposal included joining and participating in a transition center and continuing coursework with the Lipscomb University program. Brown, who was recently married while in prison, also has a book deal. “Free Cyntoia: My Search for Redemption in the American Prison System” will be released October 15.

In the years leading to her release, advocates have referred to her case as an example of the “sexual abuse-to-prison pipeline,” which represents the unjust imprisonment of child sex trafficking victims and survivors of sexual abuse, particularly girls of color, to rally lawmakers and juvenile justice reformers to push for anti-trafficking laws and more support, rather than incarceration, for child survivors.

As a teenager, Brown was forced into sex work by a 24-year-old pimp named “Cut Throat” who used to verbally and physically abuse her. 

On Aug. 6, 2004, court documents note that she met 43-year-old Johnny Mitchell Allen, a Nashville real estate agent, in the parking lot of a Sonic Drive-In. After agreeing to be paid $150 for sex, the two went to his home. There, Brown said that Allen showed her multiple guns in a cabinet. At one point, she alleges that the man reached under his bed, seemingly grabbing a firearm. Frightened by the thought that he was planning on killing her, Brown said she took a gun out of her purse and fatally shot Allen.

While Brown has always claimed she killed Allen in self-defense, the prosecution argued that because she took Allen’s wallet after she shot him in the back of the head at close range, that the motive was robbery.

She was convicted of first-degree murder, first-degree felony murder and aggravated robbery, which carried, in total, two concurrent life sentences and eight additional years.

However, because Gov. Haslam used his exclusive power to grant executive clemency toward the end of his term, Brown’s sentence was commuted.

Last week, the former Tennessee governor said his decision was based on the state’s evolving approach to juvenile justice, an understanding of Brown’s troubling background and her growth behind bars.

“She, in her own words, did something horrible. She made a really bad decision as a very young woman,” Haslam told USA Today

Brown, who has expressed gratitude to Haslam and her supporters, who last week started a GoFundMe campaign that as of Wednesday afternoon has raised more than $23 thousand, said she feels blessed and ready to use her story and experiences to help others.

“I’m blessed to have a very supportive family and friends to support me in the days to come. I look forward to using my experiences to help other women and girls suffering abuse and exploitation,” she said.

Read: Cyntoia Brown Will Be Released From Prison Next Week And Supporters Have Already Started A GoFundMe

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A 6-Year-Old Girl Was Raped And Murdered And Her Suspected Attacker Was Burned Alive By Angry Residents

Things That Matter

A 6-Year-Old Girl Was Raped And Murdered And Her Suspected Attacker Was Burned Alive By Angry Residents

@WagingNonViolence / Twitter

Content warning: the following story contains details on two horrific crimes, including sexual abuse and violence against minors. Please reconsider reading this article if these issues are triggers.

A suspect pedophile and murderer was burnt alive by an angry mob in Chiapas, Mexico, after he was accused of ending the life of a 6-year-old girl.

Credit: SPD / Federal File

It is almost too gruesome and cruel to be believed. Alfredo Roblero, a 37-year-old man  from the municipality of Faja de Oro, was accused of sexually abusing and then decapitating Jarid N., a 6-year-old girl who was reported as missing on Thursday night.

Police officers from the neighboring city of Tapachula were called in and arrested Roblero. However, an angry mob pulled him out of the police vehicle. The mob took him to a public park, badly beat him, poured gasoline over his body and set him on fire. Some reports argue that the Tapachula police didn’t try to stop the attack.

As Mexico News Daily reports, the authorities later released a timid statement: “State police officers later arrived on the scene with forensics experts from the Chiapas Attorney General’s Office (FGE) to investigate. The FGE said it would ‘not allow the public to carry out justice by its own hand.” Sounds like too little, too late.

Sexual violence and murders against women is a sad and constant presence in Mexico’s social life, cases like this are a symptom of a much more generalized problem.

Credit: @WagingNonViolence / Twitter

There is no denying that to be a woman in Mexico is to be vulnerable. From archaic practices that see families basically selling their preteen daughters into marriage or prostitution to feminicides in various hotspots in the country including Ciudad Juarez and the State of Mexico, cases like Jarid N’s are scandalous but far from surprising.

There is a clear power imbalance when it comes to gender and physical threats to women are exacerbated by patriarchal discourses that basically shut down any form of political expression from women. In recent months, women have taken on the streets to protest, even painting over monuments that have long been held “sacred” by the State. But isn’t a woman’s life much more sacred than a piece of chiseled stone?

We would never condone such an act as violent and unlawful as lynching, but we gotta get some context on the justice system in Mexico.

Mexico has seen a rise in lynching in the last decade as corruption has seeped into every level of government and people have grown increasingly desperate when it comes to true justice being served. Oftentimes criminals just walk away after giving a juicy mordida (slang for bribe, but literally meaning “bite”) to the authorities, or just due to negligence or mismanagement of files and witness accounts.

Added to this, potential witnesses often feel intimidated by the authorities or the perpetrators and prefer to remain silent even if this means that unspeakable acts will go unpunished. So before you get on your high horse, take this context into account. As we said, we don’t condone this acts but the lawlessness in which vast sectors of Mexican society have survived helps explain why some see this as the only possible way in which justice can be served for someone who raped and severed the head of a little girl. 

There is also an ages-long mistrust of the government in Chiapas

The lynching of this man, as we said, is a crime in itself. It is important, however, to get some context. Chiapas, the southern state in which the lynching occurred, has a long history of mistrust of the Mexican government at one point the state even sought independence. Chiapanecos have been let down by everyone: members of every major political party (PRI, PAN, PRD) have governed the state and they have all come short on their promises. It is no coincidence that the now legendary Zapatista rebellion was born in this state. It would be a gross and big claim to say that all of this is directly related to the lynching, but these factors have certainly lay a fertile ground for citizens taking matters into their own hands. 

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The Police Officer Who Shot Atatiana Jefferson In Her Own Home Will Be Put On Trial For Murder

Things That Matter

The Police Officer Who Shot Atatiana Jefferson In Her Own Home Will Be Put On Trial For Murder

Atatiana Jefferson / Facebook

Of the numerous ways we lost friends, neighbors and members of the community this past year, the most frustratingly avoidable one was through police brutality. Unfortunately, the statistics for police brutality in the United States — specifically against Black and brown citizens — is staggering. According to MappingPoliceViolence.org, police killed 1,147 people in 2017. Black people were 25% of those killed despite being only 13% of the population. If you’re Black, you are 3 times more likely to be killed by the police than a white person. What’s even more unjust, of all these crimes and murders, those involving police officers usually don’t receive punishment. For example, in 2015, 99% of the cases involving defendants who were police officers saw no convictions. 

Despite these appalling statistics, the family of Atatiana Jefferson beat the odds and got one step closer to the justice they seek for her death this week when it was announced that former officer Aaron Dean was indicted for the crime of her murder. 

On December 20th, the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office in Fort Worth confirmed that a Texas Grand Jury voted to indict the 35 year-old former officer for the October shooting death of Jefferson, a 28-year-old pre-med graduate student. 

In the early morning hours of October 12, Jefferson was babysitting her 8 year-old nephew at her mother’s home. The two were playing video games together when the harmless family fun turned deadly. The pair heard something outside the house so Jefferson grabbed her licensed handgun and aimed it out the window. Almost instantly, the young grad student was shot and killed by Dean who — along with another officer — had entered the home.

The two cops were responding to a welfare check Jefferson’s neighbor had requested because they noticed the home’s front door was slightly open. According to the body-cam footage that was released after the incident, Dean did not identify himself as a police officer before discharging his weapon. Instead, the former officer simply stated the commands, “Put your hands up — show me your hands,” before a single shot is fired seconds later.

The decision to seek a grand jury indictment came a week after Jefferson’s death.

Public outcry demanded that the Tarrant County prosecutors take the case seriously. In a statement to the press, prosecutors revealed they had enough evidence to ask for this indictment, and intended to “prosecute this case to the fullest extent of the law.” Less than two days after the incident that resulted in Jefferson’s death, Dean had submitted his resignation to the force. Within hours of resignation, he was booked at Tarrant County Corrections Center for the murder to Jefferson and was later released on a $200,000 bond.

Police Chief Ed Kraus expressed frustration and anger at the former officer, promising, “Had the officer not resigned, I would have fired him for violations for several policies, including our use of force policy, our de-escalation policy and unprofessional conduct.”

Still, this is a rare case. Murder charges don’t often stick to police officers so Jefferson’s family and people who support justice for her life are taking it step by step. 

One of the attorney’s for the Jefferson Family, Lee Merritt took to Twitter to share the news of Dean’s substantial indictment. Still, this is a far step away from a conviction and even further from a sentencing. With all these steps still ahead for the Jefferson Family, the justice process is sure to be exhausting. Still, as Merritt tweeted, they must “keep pushing” until they get to the end and remain cautiously optimistic that the fairness of the law will prevail for Atatiana. 

The outrage that helped this case get this far was sparked by another act of police injustice in Texas. 

In 2018, Botham Jean was killed in his own home by neighbor police Officer Amber Guyger. She claimed that she thought Jean was an intruder in her apartment but mishandling of the case by the Dallas P.D. suggested a cover up and the story made national news. Guyger eventually resigned from the force and was found guilty of first degree murder. However, the former police officer was only given 10 years for her crime. A judge also recently dismissed the civil suit that the Jean family had against the City of Dallas and the Dallas P.D. for mishandling Botham’s murder investigation. If nothing else, hopefully the anger that’s felt for these unaddressed acts of police brutality will motivate the Jefferson case and find the justice Atatiana deserves.

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