In 2004, Cyntoia Brown was found at the scene of a murder victim, a 43-year-old man who had allegedly solicited her for sex when she was only 16. Brown gave up her Miranda Rights and defended her actions for shooting the man. Brown was tried as an adult even though she was a minor. Brown received a “life sentence” in 2006 that would last for 60 years based off a loophole in the Tennessee Supreme Court. Since the sentence could theoretically be reduced by up to 15 percent, or nine years, this doesn’t violate the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that forbids convicting minors to prison for terms equivalent to death, according to an article by Refinery29.
The case hit the media, hard. Celebrities voiced their support of Brown, and her release, attracting the attention of major celebrities like Kim Kardashian, who seems to be inserting herself in a lot of cases like these in recent years.
When Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam granted Brown full clemency after almost 15 years behind bars, Brown’s face lit up like the sun. In half a year, Brown will become a free woman.
On Oct. 20, 2014, Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke was seen via police dashboard cam shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times, effectively killing him. In the video, McDonald is allegedly charging Van Dyke with a three inch knife, and Van Dyke proceeded to shoot him.
Van Dyke was initially charged with first degree murder, aggravated battery and official misconduct during the trial. However, after four years of trial, Van Dyke was found guilty of second-degree murder and aggravated battery with a firearm and was sentenced to six years and nine months in jail. This was considerably light due to the range of possible sentences Van Dyke could have received, which ranged from probation to twenty years behind bars.
While the release of Brown and the indictment of Van Dyke is seen as a huge win for supporters of Brown and McDonald and gives hope back to the community for the justice system, the fact of the matter is, this victory should not be so rare. It should be commonplace.
There is no question that our justice system is pretty broken, and while steps are being made towards improving it for all members of our society, we are still a long way from an acceptable system.
It’s the story that we always hear. The white cop fatally shoots the innocent black person and is not found guilty of any charges. The Van Dyke case is one of the first times that I’ve ever heard in which the cop was found guilty of a crime that he committed. Oftentimes in previous years, these types of cases do not even make it to court.
While our justice system is improving to side more often with the victims of assault, regardless of their race, there is still so much more work that is necessary to ensure that all people who were wrongfully killed, murdered and imprisoned did not die in vain or get convicted because of the color of their skin or the place that they grew up.
It is very obvious that not everyone comes from the same background. A Hispanic or African-American person who grew up in the inner city would have a very different upbringing than a child who grew up in an affluent neighborhood in the suburbs.
It is oftentimes a matter of context that leads people to act in the way that they do. Everyone is taught different ideals and different mannerisms, and those who are less fortunate and perhaps grow up in more dangerous places are often taught more about how to survive on the streets rather than a formal education. No child should have to worry about where their next meal is coming from or constantly have to look over their shoulder to run away from a potential attack and dodge a drive-by shooting.
Everyone deserves justice, in whatever shape or form that it comes in. As citizens of one of the most developed countries in the United States, we should not need to rely on famous celebrities to come to the aid of those we believe are wrongfully convicted or charged to help their case.
But what this also entails is exposing the underlying issues of our current society. It is very much a power struggle between all walks of life, regardless of their ethnicity, gender, race, etc. Everyone is looking to be the top dog, and when they don’t get their way, well, that’s up to the imagination.
Take for example the Brown case. According to an article published by NPR, this case highlights the “sexual abuse-to-prison hotline.” Yasmin Vafa, who is the executive director of the human rights organization Rights4Girls, said that the case is “an example of the ‘sexual abuse-to-prison’ pipeline that leads some of the most vulnerable women and girls into the criminal justice system.”
The article goes on to speak about the ways that victimization is the main driving factor towards the abuse of women and girls and how the #MeToo movement has been an ongoing platform that has shifted to exposing the stories of these women in hopes for the necessary reform.
“And I think that it’s not a coincidence that the whole issue of Cyntoia Brown has made a kind of resurgence during the wake of these ‘me too’ disclosures because I think it shows what ‘me too’ looks like for some of our most vulnerable girls,” Vafa told NPR.
Cases like Brown’s and Bresha Meadows’, who pled guilty for killing her father, are among the extreme cases that show the ways in which the justice system has failed extremely vulnerable populations and demonstrate the necessity for reform from highly oppressed communities.
And while the majority of cases are not this extreme, the conviction of Van Dyke and the highly anticipated release of Brown demonstrate the progress of the justice system towards a future in which everyone is treated equally and fairly.