UPDATE: Brittney Griner has pleaded guilty to drug charges in Russia. Through an interpreter, Griner told the court that she had not intended to commit a crime and the cannabis oil found in her luggage was the result of her “packing in a hurry,” according to CNN. This week, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris spoke with Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, over the phone but have yet to commit to any concrete action to bring Griner home. This news comes after Griner’s detention was extended for six months in June. The WNBA star has been wrongfully detained in Russia since February. Her next hearing is set for July 14.
“It has been over 130 days since Brittney was initially detained in Russia. Brittney Griner’s detainment in Russia is a cruel reminder of the systemic and disproportionate criminalization of Black people for minor drug-related offenses and the incarceration of Black people at large. Black people are continually and deliberately excluded from the system’s protocols despite being asked to follow protocols and procedures themselves, and Brittney’s case is yet another example of this harmful practice.” – Black Feminist Future
The following story was originally published on May 6, 2022
The Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) kicks off its annual season today (May 6) with four-star studded matchups. But one star player will be noticeably absent from the games. Phoenix Mercury Center Brittney Griner has remained cruelly detained in Russia for the last 78 days. That is 78 days too many for anyone, especially a beloved three-time All-American, ESPY award winner, seven-time All-Star, All-WNBA selection, two-time Olympic gold medalist, and WNBA champion. It is 78 days too many for a Black lesbian woman to be kept from her loved ones, her teammates, and her community in Russia, a country that is known for its widespread discrimination and hostility towards our people; with a leader who is waging a deeply unjust war on Ukraine.
Griner was first taken into Russian custody in February after Moscow airport custom officials allegedly found vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage. She faces up to 10 years in prison. Since then, the public has only received one report from the State Department over a month ago who found her to be “in good condition” and have heard nothing about her well-being since. Griner’s WNBA colleagues and family have shared on multiple occasions that they have been told by U.S. government officials to remain silent in order to protect Griner’s safety. Yet just last week, the country celebrated the return of Trevor Reed after Russia released the Marine veteran in a prisoner swap. Reed had been detained in Russia since 2019, and his family has fought loudly and passionately since then — from multiple protests and hunger strikes to meeting with President Biden last month and ensuring Trevor’s name remained in the media.
While Trevor’s return to his family is a cause for celebration, it is also a somber reminder that Brittney Griner remains locked up, far away from home and from loved ones in a country where 1 in 5 people want gays and lesbians “eliminated.” Experts are calling into question the allegations against Brittney, as the lack of transparency and communication from Russian authorities is more indicative of Russian political bargaining than a standard criminal proceeding.
So, if Griner’s family and teammates aren’t able to fight for her swift release, it is up to us — the Black women, girls, LGBTQ+, and gender expansive people who see ourselves and our communities in Brittney Griner — to keep shouting and keep fighting until the U.S. government hears our rallying cries and finally brings Griner home where she belongs. Black Feminist Future’s mission is to build a world where all Black women, girls, and gender-expansive folks are safe, joyful, cared for, powerful, self-determining, and thriving.
It is up to us — the Black women, girls, LGBTQ+, and gender expansive people who see ourselves and our communities in Brittney Griner — to keep shouting and keep fighting until the U.S. government hears our rallying cries and finally brings Griner home where she belongs.
For the last 78 days we have made Griner’s safe return our top priority with our #BringBrittneyHome campaign, and we won’t rest until the job is done. Because this is about Brittney Griner, but it is also about the millions of Black people whose bodies are constantly and consistently policed for their very existence. The lack of visibility on Griner’s conditions and lack of action we are seeing from elected officials reveals how Black women, girls, LGBTQ, and gender expansive people are repeatedly deprioritized in this country and around the world.
Today, if an NBA star or any other star male athlete were unjustly detained in a foreign country for more than even a day, this country would be up in arms. Ultimately, Brittney Griner’s story is also an all too common one of massive pay inequity between male athletes and Black queer female athletes in the country, and it is what led Griner to play in Russia on top of her WNBA career in the first place. Today, WNBA players’ salaries average a shocking 1.5 percent of their NBA counterparts. What that tells every Black woman, girl, and gender-expansive person in this country is that no matter how decorated or successful we are, our value is less than 2 percent than that of our cis-male counterparts.
But we will not let ourselves and our people be devalued; we will fight until every last one of us is safe, joyful, and thriving. We will not remain silent until justice is brought to Brittney Griner and her loved ones. That’s why we launched the #BringBrittneyHome campaign to amplify the call to urge U.S. officials to prioritize Brittney Griner’s swift and safe return home. Just this week, after months of relative silence the U.S. government has finally reclassified Griner as ‘wrongfully detained’ which may not have happened if it weren’t for the organizing efforts of Black people and Griner’s fans across the country.
We won’t stop now. We urge the public to sign our petition so we can continue to work together and pressure U.S. officials to take action to #BringBrittneyHome. We demand the U.S. government prioritize the swift and safe release and return of Brittney Griner back to the United States — facing no charges. We demand ongoing visible proof of Brittney Griner’s safety and wellbeing as well as consistent communication and wellness checks while in custody. We demand Griner have access to the same benefits and protections as any other U.S. citizen, including but not limited to consistent U.S. consular access. Ultimately, Brittney Griner is one of us, and we need to fight to bring her home.
Dominique Symone is the Director of Power Building for Black Feminist Future.
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