ISSUES

Cyntoia Brown Granted Clemency After 14 Years in Prison

Brown was sex trafficked as a teen and given a life sentence for murdering the man who paid for her.

Cyntoia Denise Brown was granted clemency after serving 15 years in prison for murdering the sex trafficker who solicited her for sex. Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam granted Brown's early release on Monday after years of lobbying by prison rights' activists, state lawmakers, and high-profile celebrities, including Amy Schumer, Rihanna, Kim Kardashian, and Ashley Judd. In December, Judd posted a message to Governor Haslam on Twitter, "Cyntoia Brown was a victim of child sex trafficking, raped, and forced into paid sexual exploitation to stay alive. She deserves our empathy and your mercy."


In 2004, Brown was a 16-year-old forced into prostitution by her 24-year-old pimp, "Kut Throat." She was solicited for sex in a parking lot by 43-year-old Johnny Allen. Alarmed by the man's behavior, Brown shot Allen with the gun he kept under the bed, later recounting to the police that he was reaching for the gun first.

While Brown was tried as an adult and found guilty for murder and robbery, her case helped to inspire reform in Tennessee's juvenile sentencing. Stacy Case, CNN affiliate and WZTZ anchor, points out, "If Cyntoia Brown were tried today, legal experts say she would not have been tried in the same way. Our courts today would view her as a child sex slave... She would be viewed as a victim."

Brown served over 14 years of her life sentence before Governor Haslam granted her clemency. His office issued the following statement: "This decision comes after careful consideration of what is a tragic and complex case. 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."

Brown, now 30 years old, told Haslam, "Thank you for your act of mercy in giving me a second chance. I will do everything I can to justify your faith in me." She continued, "With God's help, I am committed to live the rest of my life helping others, especially young people. My hope is to help other young girls avoid ending up where I have been."

Brown will be released on parole on August 7. Conditions of her release will include regular counseling sessions, 50 hours of community service, and gainful employment. While in prison, Brown has earned her Associate's degree, continues to work towards her Bachelor's, and mentors at-risk youth with plans to begin a nonprofit organization for troubled teens in the future.

Meg Hanson is a Brooklyn-based writer, teacher, and jaywalker. Find Meg at her website and on Twitter @megsoyung.

WORLD

Top 5 Countries With the Most Freedom

Where are the freest places to live in terms of individual rights, economic freedoms, and political protections?

From "Brexit" to Brazil's election of Jair Bolsonaro, from Donald Trump's controversial stances to historic protests in the streets of Paris, political upsets and cultural shifts across the world have altered what it means to be a modern citizen. Interpretations of "liberty" and personal freedom will always vary between cultures and governments' ideologies, but where are the freest places to live in terms of individual rights, economic freedoms, and political protections, including social tolerance?

Evaluations of various countries' personal freedom in 2018 gave acute focus on freedoms of speech and religion and social acceptance of immigrants and ethnic minorities. According to reports from The Legatum Prosperity Index and Freedom House, the North American region showed overall gains in personal and economic freedom, while living in the Middle East and North Africa still present struggles in terms of safety and individual rights. Meanwhile, Northern European countries maintained historically high standards of civil liberties and political rights, accounting for six of the top ten "freest" countries.

1. Norway

League of Students

This country of over 5 million citizens has consistently earned the top ranking in various assessments of personal liberty. Norway was the first Scandinavian country to legalize same-sex marriage, and men and women are guaranteed parity by law, from education and healthcare to social services and labor. Offering the 4th greatest access to education and healthy social capital, living in Norway combines economic freedoms with guaranteed freedoms of press and religion. In addition, residents enjoy arguably the safest and most secure protections against foreign threats and crime.

2. New Zealand

Culture Trip

New Zealand tops assessments of economic freedom in terms of social capital and business environment. Historically free of corruption, the Parliament's democratic elections represents its 4.7 million citizens in a multi-party system. In addition to protecting political freedom, the government prioritizes civil liberties for its citizens, particularly freedoms of free speech, press, and religion. For instance, same-sex marriage has been legal in Norway since 2009, and Parliament has been approximately 50% women since the 1980s.

3. Finland

Old Town pier in Helsinki, Finland Lonely Planet

With top rankings in education and governance, Finland also protects political freedom with multi-party elections and anti-corruption legislation. In terms of social parity, women enjoy a "high degree of equality" and traditional courtesy." In fact, in 1906 Finland became the first European country to extend suffrage to women. Due to ample civil liberties protections, Finland was described by Forbes as the "happiest country in the world," drawing a high number of immigrant residents among its population of 5.5 million.

4. Switzerland

Wanderable

As a country that relies on direct democracy, Switzerland extends political freedom to 8.4 million residents through regular public referendums and a governing coalition of four political parties. Switzerland also offers excellent access to education and economic freedom. Same-sex marriage has been legal since 2007, and Switzerland has been described as one of the best countries for immigrants, with younger generations displaying an open attitude towards immigration.

5. Denmark

Denmark protects economic freedoms with strong opportunities for social capital with open-market policies. The government historically protects freedoms of expression and association, guaranteeing freedoms of press and speech under its constitution. Denmark was the first country in the world to recognize same-sex unions in the form of registered partnership. In 2012, same-sex marriages were legalized. Additionally, in 2016 the US News and World Report named Denmark the "best country in the world for women," citing gender equality, income quality, safety, and progressiveness.

While the U.S was #17 in The Legatum Prosperity Index's rankings (and #58 according to Freedom House), "freedom" remains a moving target that changes its appearance with each era. While many Scandinavian countries have offered exemplary

personal freedom protections to its citizens, shifting politics are changing the legal landscape that defines "freedom." For instance, while Finland legalized same-sex marriage in 2017, the country is still working to abolish the dark shadow of 1970s discriminatory laws, including forced sterilization for transgender people applying for sex reassignment surgery. In Switzerland, security measures passed in 2017 endow the government with heightened powers of surveillance of suspected terrorists, which critics say unfairly target new waves of immigrants.

Other countries to make the top 10 include (in order of ranking): Sweden, the United Kingdom, Canada, Netherlands, and Ireland. But as modern trends of immigration and growing awareness of LGBTQIA issues have outlined, even the "freest" countries can still improve.

Meg Hanson is a Brooklyn-based writer, teacher, and jaywalker. Find Meg at her website and on Twitter @megsoyung.

POLITICS

White House Correspondents' Association Snubs Comedians

The WHCA will not invite a comedian to speak at the 2019 dinner due to "unusual moment" in history when Trump's threats to freedom of the press aren't funny.

According to The White House Correspondents' Association, tensions between the press and the Trump Administration are nothing to joke about. This year's annual fundraising dinner, which traditionally invites a comedian to roast the president and the press corps, will instead feature Ron Chernow, noted biographer of Alexander Hamilton, as its speaker.

Oliver Knox, the association's president, announced Chernow's selection on Monday, stating, "As we celebrate the importance of a free and independent news media to the health of the republic, I look forward to hearing Ron place this unusual moment in the context of American history."

Town & Country Magazine

Ironically, it's Trump's expected absence from the event that worries the association. Another facet of the annual tradition is for the seated president to speak first, jest with the press corps and perhaps poke fun at himself, and then the comedian parries back in their own speech. However, Trump has declined to attend the last two years, giving no indication that he plans to appear at the April 27th event with Chernow. Knox has noted that the president's absence can skew the tone of the room into feeling antagonistic toward the current administration, rather than a good-humored acknowledgement of differences.

In fact, last year's event (sans Trump) featured Michelle Wolf, who incurred the president's wrath and general backlash for her remarks. For instance, Wolf singled out White House reporters for empowering Trump, stating, "You helped create this monster, and now you're profiting off of him." Later Trump took to Twitter to denounce Wolf as a "filthy 'comedian'."

CNN - The Blaze

This year, Chernow is clarifying that "he's never been mistaken for a stand-up comedian," but he's aware of the "unusual moment" Knox speaks of, in terms of the fraught relationship between the Trump administration and the press. High points of tension include the widely publicized legal battle between CNN and the White House after CNN correspondent Jim Acosta's press pass was revoked and then reinstated by a judge after his network took the matter to court.

Stuck in the middle, Chernow released a statement, "The White House Correspondents' Association has asked me to make the case for the First Amendment and I am happy to oblige. Freedom of the press is always a timely subject and this seems like the perfect moment to go back to basics. My major worry these days is that we Americans will forget who we are as a people and historians should serve as our chief custodians in preserving that rich storehouse of memory."

Meg Hanson is a Brooklyn-based writer, teacher, and jaywalker. Find Meg at her website and on Twitter @megsoyung

POLITICS

In Un-American Move, White House Bans CNN Correspondent

The White House revokes CNN reporter Jim Acosta's press pass with "fraudulent accusations" of assault.

Trump's vilification of the press as "an enemy of the people" reached a crescendo on Wednesday when CNN's chief White House Correspondent Jim Acosta was banned from the property "until further notice." The dismissal followed a heated exchange between him and Trump during a press conference.

Acosta first shared on Twitter that he'd been barred from the White House grounds.

During a press conference earlier that day, Acosta questioned Trump's description of the migrant caravan approaching the US border from Central America as an "invasion." He then baldly asked about Russia's involvement in the 2016 presidential election, to which the president opted to lob insults at Acosta and CNN, including calling Acosta a "rude, terrible person."

Trump prevented the reporter from asking follow up questions, declaring, "That's enough" and, "Put down the mic!" A female aide approached and attempted to physically wrestle the microphone away from Acosta. This was the contentious point that Press Secretary Sarah Huckerbee Sanders referred to on Twitter after confirming that Acosta's press access had been revoked. Sanders claimed the decision was the result of him putting "his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job as a White House intern."

Shamefully, Sanders followed up by posting a clip of doctored footage from the incident. Paul Joseph Watson, editor of the infamously fallacious Infowars website, edited and shared the video on Twitter before Sanders posted it, stating, "We will not tolerate the inappropriate behavior clearly documented in this video."

Acosta simply posted his response to the accusation as "a lie," as accurate footage of the press conference clearly shows his lack of aggression towards the intern. CNN has responded on Twitter by condemning Trump's "disturbingly un-American" attacks on the press and asserting that they "stand behind Jim Acosta and his fellow journalists everywhere." They've also posted undoctored footage of the exchange "for the world to see."

In addition, CNN denounced the White House's decision and Sanders' "fraudulent accusations." In a statement, they asserted that Acosta's ban "was done in retaliation for his challenging questions at today's press conference. In an explanation, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders lied. She provided fraudulent accusations and cited an incident that never happened. This unprecedented decision is a threat to our democracy and the country deserves better."

While Fox News reporter Chris Wallace agreed that Acosta's actions were "shameful," the White House Correspondents' Association finds Acosta's ban "unacceptable." In a statement, they urge the White House to "immediately reverse this weak and misguided action."

Business Insider

Trump and his administration have an infamous history of combating the press. In October, the writers organization and free speech advocacy group PEN America filed to sue President Trump in federal court "to stop President Trump from using the machinery of government to retaliate or threaten reprisals against journalists and media outlets for coverage he dislikes."

Neither Sarah Sanders nor the White House has made further comment on Acosta's press credentials since Wednesday.

Meg Hanson is a Brooklyn-based writer, teacher and jaywalker. Find Meg at her website and on Twitter @megsoyung.

ISSUES

How the Internet Fosters Hate Speech

Contrary to popular belief, there is no hate speech exception to the First Amendment.

The social networking site Gab has been taken offline since it was confirmed that the Pittsburgh synagogue gunman used it to post anti-Semitic hate speech and to threaten Jews. The site is popular with the far right and describes itself as "an ad-free social network for creators who believe in free speech, individual liberty, and the free flow of information online. All are welcome." Gab was originally created by conservative businessman Andrew Torba in response to Twitter clamping down on hate speech in 2016.

Robert Bowers logged onto the platform shortly before killing 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue on Saturday to post the following.

Consequently, the site has been abandoned by payment processing firms PayPal and Stripe, as well as hosting service Joyent and domain register GoDaddy. A statement on Gab's website Monday read that the platform would be "inaccessible for a period of time" as it switches to a new web host. It said the issue was being worked on "around the clock." The statement went on to defend the website, saying, "We have been systematically no-platformed [and] smeared by the mainstream media for defending free expression and individual liberty for all people."

Regarding Bowers' use of the site, Torba said, "Because he was on Gab, law enforcement now have definitive evidence for a motive," Mr. Torba wrote. "They would not have had this evidence without Gab. We are proud to work with and support law enforcement in order to bring justice to this alleged terrorist."

But companies associated with Gab were not satisfied by the site's cooperation with law enforcement and continue to abandon the site. PayPal, the platform Gab used to manage donations from users, said in a statement, "When a site is explicitly allowing the perpetuation of hate, violence or discriminatory intolerance, we take immediate and decisive action."

A tweet from Gab on Monday morning implied that the people behind the site believe themselves to be a victim of intentional defamation.

Set aside the questionable intent of the decidedly tone-deaf tweet; and, legally, Gab did not do anything wrong. Contrary to popular belief, there is no hate speech exception to the First Amendment. The Supreme Court reaffirmed this in 2017 in Matal vs. Tal, deciding, "Speech that demeans on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, disability, or any other similar ground is hateful...the proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express 'the thought that we hate.'" Despite this, many people are calling for the permanent removal of the site, as Wired points out, "Momentary political rage can blind people into abandoning sacred values."

However, the internet inarguably contributes to the creation of extremists, as we have seen in the case of terrorists, rapists, school shooters, and now the synagogue shooter in Pittsburgh. Sites like Gab allows users to easily find other people who share their most extreme viewpoints, inevitably normalizing disturbing rhetoric the user may have otherwise suppressed or self-corrected in time. Therefore, sites like Gab become polarizing spaces that can help to sew the kinds of ideas that lead to violent acts. But, if there's no legal action to be taken against a site like Gab without damaging free speech, what can be done?

GAB Logo

Justice Anthony Kennedy said in his opinion following Matal vs. Tal, "A law that can be directed against speech found offensive to some portion of the public can be turned against minority and dissenting views to the detriment of all. The First Amendment does not entrust that power to the government's benevolence. Instead, our reliance must be on the substantial safeguards of free and open discussion in a democratic society."

While what exactly those safeguards are remains unclear, one can speculate that what Kennedy meant is exactly what Gab calling unjust now. As previously mentioned, the site has been abandoned by all of the companies whose services were needed for the site to remain online. And just as Gab has the right to allow freedom of expression on their site as they see fit, these companies are also free to express themselves in refusing to work with websites that allow hateful rhetoric.

Indeed, the conversation surrounding the fate of Gab has revealed that freedom of speech online is not decided by the government, but by social media platforms, servers, and domain registers who are free to decide with what kind of opinion their company wants to be associated. This also means that, on some level, what is seen as acceptable online is driven by consumer outrage and approval.

Daily Mirror

For example, after facing criticism for allowing users to post prejudiced content, larger social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook have been actively fighting against hateful rhetoric with varying degrees of success. In 2016, a code of conduct was established by the European Union in collaboration with Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Microsoft. The code is aimed at fighting racism and xenophobia and encourages the social media companies to remove hate speech from their platforms.

So, instead of outraged Americans calling for the legal suppression of sites like Gab — an impossibility if the First Amendment is to remain intact — the real power of the individual to fight hate speech is in one's ability to support or boycott companies based on how they handle free expression.


Brooke Ivey Johnson is a Brooklyn based writer, playwright, and human woman. To read more of her work visit her blog or follow her twitter @BrookeIJohnson.
POLITICS

Speak Your Mind: the five freedoms protected by the First Amendment

Getting to know your Constitution and the rights it guarantees you.

Can you recite the five main freedoms protected by the First Amendment? If not, you aren't alone. The New York Times, citing a recent study by the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University, revealed that just over half the people surveyed knew that our First Amendment protects freedom of speech, under 25% knew that it protects freedom of religion, under 20% knew that it protects freedom of the press, 14% knew that it protects freedom of association and only 6% knew that it protects the right to petition the government for grievances. Yet another survey conducted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center found that 37% of Americans could not even name one right protected under the First Amendment. Back in 2006, one in four Americans could name one right, but more than half could name at least two members of the cartoon family, the Simpsons.

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ISSUES

Oh yeah....I AM Black

An honest reflection on race, inequality, and justice in America

February 26, 2018 will mark the six year anniversary of Trayvon Martin's death. His killer, George Zimmerman, was acquitted of all charges on July 13, 2013. The tale of unarmed black men being killed in America is one that seems to be never-ending. Stories of unarmed African Americans being gunned down at the hands of law enforcement circulate throughout the news cycle as frequently as weather updates. Trayvon became a martyr at only 17 years old. His death was the pinch that woke America up from the dream of "racial equality" that had been conjured with the election of our first Black president four years before his murder. The Dog-whistle-politics that stemmed from this case would've made Lassie's head explode. Right wing talking heads went as far as to blame Trayvon's death on the hoodie he was wearing. Some feel that had he not been wearing said hoodie that made him look "suspicious," Martin would still be alive today.

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ISSUES

What does freedom really mean?

The meaning of freedom can vary from person to person, so what does it mean for all?

Freedom is a fundamental element of liberty; it's a concept, a value, and a feeling.

It's also an essential human requirement, and something most people agree is worth fighting for. But what does freedom really mean in our daily lives, and the lives of others? What does it require of us?

In 1941, Franklin D. Roosevelt explored these questions. Roosevelt – a master communicator (and frequent contributor to Liberty magazine) – delivered a State of the Union address to millions of Americans, as they gathered around radios in parlors and tenements, just as they had for his famous "fireside chats." In his familiar, reassuring voice he introduced the nation to a concept he called the Four Freedoms:

  1. Freedom of speech and expression
  2. Freedom of worship
  3. Freedom from want
  4. Freedom from fear

At the time, the country was reeling from depression and fearful of war. Roosevelt provided a powerful affirmation of shared values and a call to action to defend them. As freedoms were disappearing in Nazi-occupied Europe, Roosevelt reminded Americans that their commitment to freedom was the foundation for everything that would be asked of them in the coming years.

The Cost of Freedom

At the heart of Roosevelt's message is a curious paradox: the four freedoms are fundamentally at odds. Freedom of speech and worship involve only the individual, who makes a choice to act (or not), while freedom from want and fear requires society to take collective action, and for us to be responsible for one another. In fact, the freedom we enjoy as individuals is possible only in and through our community.

For most of us today, freedom represents doing what you want, when and how you want, without anyone interfering or stopping you. Freedom means you can be you. And it means you will let me be me. But freedom can't be absolute: it is not the absence of rules; and it is definitely not anarchy. Our freedom hangs in the tension between chaos and control, between I and us. With freedom comes responsibility: if we're allowed to do what we want, we're also responsible for what we do.

That's the catch.

If we accept a definition of freedom that allows everyone to be fully themselves, we should accept that there are some conditions that need to be met first. You can't be truly free if you're starving, or homeless, or sick. If we are to guarantee freedom, do we also need to guarantee all free people a level of basic well-being? That's a lot of responsibility.

Freedom For All?

Here in the "land of the free," we are often quick to celebrate the freedoms outlined by our founding fathers, while forgetting their original concept of freedom was reserved strictly for property-owning white men – women, slaves, and Native Americans, not so much. In many ways, America's unfinished history has been a process of giving more freedom to more people over time.

Freedom means different things to different people. But it also means different things to the same people at different times in their lives. And, like most big ideas, freedom depends on context.

Freedom can be all of these things and more

The bumper stickers are true – freedom isn't free. It's costly and valuable, and it should be treasured and kept safe. We honor our freedom when we enjoy it, celebrate it, and share it. What does freedom mean to you? The last day of school? The first day of school? Share your idea of freedom with us below.