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By Matthew Kincaid

On Tuesday, July 19, the Biden administration announced new measures to help secure the release of Americans held wrongfully in foreign countries.

Since the US government has a duty to protect citizens, I applaud these efforts. Yet as an anti-racism expert, I believe this case illustrates the injustice that Black people, women, and members of the LGBTQIA+ community face not only worldwide, but also in the US. President Biden should prioritize securing the release of Brittney Griner and all other US political prisoners in Russia.

Why is Griner Really Being Held?

The Russian government has held Griner in detention since mid-February for allegedly possessing vape cartridges containing less than a gram of hashish oil. Experts say she faces a sham trial followed by 10 years of possible prison time. On Aug. 4, a Russian court sentenced Griner to 9 years in a penal colony and a $16,000 fine. To say this sentence seems disproportionate is an understatement.

Reasonable people therefore wonder if Griner is really on trial for something else. Considering current US sanctions on Russia following their invasion of Ukraine, could Russia be holding her hostage to exert pressure on American foreign policy?

If so, she may actually be a political prisoner, which would cast her case in a different light. If Russia is using her as a pawn in their political theater, then the Biden administration should also appreciate her geopolitical significance. As a multiple gold medalist, she has served our country in a high-profile manner, and the world is watching.

Griner as a Powerful Symbol

In the last election, President Biden ran on the Democratic party platform of enhancing rights and freedoms for targeted minorities such as women, people of color, and the LGBTQIA+ community. Griner lives at the intersection of all three identities; she is Black, a woman, and a lesbian.

At this moment in US history, it’s not safe to live in these identities. The overturning of Roe v. Wade took away reproductive rights and bodily autonomy for those who can give birth, while also placing other privacy-based rights in question. In some states, accurate history can no longer be taught in schools. Courts are validating racist voter suppression tactics. A wave of anti-LGBTQIA legislation has swept the country.

Republican politicians are targeting the rights of those who belong to these communities. It’s terrifying to know that other people, most of whom are outside of your community, wield power over how you live.

The Biden administration needs to push back against these disturbing trends by centering people in marginalized groups. Our lives are just as important as anyone else’s.

The US Needs to Look in the Mirror

A 9-year penalty for a small amount of hashish oil is harsh and unfair. Russia is clearly an unjust country for imposing penalties such as this, however, the US has also incarcerated a high number of people for selling or possessing marijuana — the vast majority of whom are non-white minorities. Studies show this uneven imprisonment is not because people of color use marijuana more than whites, but because the laws are enforced more heavily on us.

Similarly, for those who argue that Griner broke Russian law and must accept the consequences, I would point out that Black people seem to be punished for offenses that are often forgiven when the privileged commit them.

In this regard, Brittney Griner’s case shines a light on unfair drug policies in the US. We need to consider how our own society unjustly incarcerates people based on skin color.

Do the Right Thing

Griner serves as a powerful symbol for important minority populations at this critical moment in our nation’s history. Her case presents a chance to reverse our country’s longstanding history of prejudice and create a more just and equitable society. In this moment, President Biden can do the right thing by standing up for all of us.

Matthew Kincaid is the founder, CEO, and Chief Consulting Officer of Overcoming Racism, which provides high-impact race and equity professional development and consultation.

The Black Wall Street Times is a news publication located in Tulsa, Okla. and Atlanta, Ga. At The BWSTimes, we focus on elevating the stories of our beloved Greenwood community, elevating the stories of...

One reply on “Op-ed: Why Biden Should Prioritize Bringing Brittney Griner Home”

  1. Biden is caught between exchanging Brittney Griner for a convicted Russian arms dealer. Griner was caught with drugs. Griner is asking for the USA to exchange a criminal who has caused death around the world with an American basketball star who did not stand for the pledge and disrespected our flag? Interesting. Russia knows that Biden is doing this strictly for political reasons and Russia will take advantage any chance they get. Griner has been sentenced and will do some prison time in Russia.

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