Society, Cultural Norms, and the Application of the Law

Is the Commutation of the Original Sentence for Cyntoia Brown Appropriate?

By Katherine Fry, CEO/President Mediafy Communications Group

The case of Cyntoia Brown, the young teenage prostitute who murdered Nashville native Johnny Allen, has become the cause of the day for various celebrities. While some feel that her original sentence of fifty-one years to life represents a fair and just application of the law, others have argued that Cyntoia’s age and circumstance make this particular case worthy of a second look. This turn of events then begs the question-is our law static, and not subject to change, or is it flexible and subject to change with the evolution of societal norms?

Cyntoia Brown conceivably represents many of the poor, black females we observe walking the streets. Rather than acknowledging or helping these women, we glance away and judge them for their poor choices. The reality is, however, that many of these young women are runaways, with no authority figure other than a violent pimp. Their lives consist of humiliation and sexual objectification, often spiraling into a deadly cycle of violence and drug abuse. This cycle is often only ended by the murder or drug overdose of the prostitute. Like the state of nature itself, their lives are nasty, brutish, and short.

Cyntoia Brown’s life started in a daze, just as her victim’s life ended in one. Born to a drug-addicted, alcoholic single mother, her life quickly devolved down the same destructive path. Running away from her adopted parents, she fell into the claws of a savage pimp. One night, a real estate agent in his forties picked up Cyntoia. After rebuffing his many attempts to have sexual relations with her, Cyntoia ultimately shot him in the head. Was it in self-defense from Johnny Allen, or did she do it while he slept beside her? Either way, Johnny Allen died, and Cyntoia immediately took what should carry and ran.

Justice for the victim, Johnny Allen reigned down swiftly on Cyntoia. When prostitutes are murdered, society often fails to notice they are missing. When the Johns of the world go missing, it usually results in anger and a trial. The outcome of this case is arguably cliche-the disadvantaged, black, female prostitute, sentenced to fifty-one years to life for murdering an advantaged, white, professional male. Following the trial, with justice duly served, society forgot about Cyntoia and moved on….for a while.

As society changes over time, so do the views and values of its citizens. (1) The year 2004 represented a world quite different from today. The conservative George W. Bush had just defeated the liberal John Kerry. Conservatism pervaded our society, and the Iraq War remained in full force. As a country, we had little time, interest, or sympathy for an underage, black female prostitute. The sacrifice of Cyntoia Brown simply represented good sense, according to the cultural norms at the time.

Today, our culture has perhaps evolved into one of greater responsibility toward our youth and redemption for our sins. Many celebrities have taken up their own particular cause de jures, with Cyntoia Brown being among them. Consequently, many people have found it hard to stomach incarcerating, effectively for life, a once sixteen-year-old, sex-trafficked by adults. Society has changed so much that, despite having commuted her sentence, many still say Governor Haslam should be ashamed for requiring Cyntoia to serve another eight months.

Like our current society, the business culture has evolved also, into one of custodial and transformational leadership, rather than one of dictatorship. As the CEO of a digital marketing company, I feel a responsibility toward my staff, to make their lives better, more hopeful, and more productive. I am not just their boss in many ways I consider myself a parent, not only here to make sure the company prospers, but that their personal lives prosper also. My office has food for the staff, web seminars for continued learning, lights dimmed to protect their eyes and paid vacation for those on salary. I am constantly thinking of new ways to improve their lives because the welfare of the individuals within my company has become just as important as the welfare of the company itself. This is quite different than just a few years ago, where the bottom line mattered the most, even at the expense of the staff’s private lives and paychecks.

The case of Cyntoia Brown, including her conviction, and the commutation of her sentence, represents broader changes occurring within our society. Rather than our law remaining static, it is instead dynamic, and changing with societal norms. In 2004, at the height of conservatism and a foreign war, the case of Cyntoia Brown generated little interest. Today, however, our society simply cannot stomach locking up a sex-trafficked child for life. Tomorrow may be different, but today, society dictates that Cyntoia Brown shall be freed. Society also dictates that business owners care more for their employees than they ever have before. Consequently, it will be interesting to see what societal norms hold for us in the future.

  1. https://www.google.com/search?q=Is+the+application+of+the+law+static%3F+or+does+it+change+over+time%3F&rlz=1C1CHBF_enUS790US790&oq=Is+the+application+of+the+law+static%3F++or+does+it+change+over+time%3F&aqs=chrome..69i57.22919j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-)