Listen to this article here
WNBA champion, two-time Olympic gold medalist and Russian political hostage Brittney Griner is spending her 32nd birthday behind bars on foreign soil. As average citizens, we may feel helpless in the effort to secure her release, but together our voices are more powerful than we realize.
Now isn’t the time to quietly hope for a safe return out of fear that raising our voices will make things worse. No. Now is the time to remind Biden, the nation and the world that freeing Griner is a top priority.
Whether it’s a letter to the White House, a phone call, a rally in the streets or a social media post, do you really want to look back and say you did nothing at all?
Think about it. There hasn’t been a Black woman caught in the middle of international geopolitics since the days of Ida B. Wells. As an investigative Black journalist uncovering the cruelty of U.S. lynchings in the South, Wells traveled to Britain in 1893 to urge the nation to sanction the U.S. for its inaction on racial domestic terrorism.
Nearly 130 years later, it’s up to us to urge Biden to secure the freedom of Brittney Griner from a Russian jail cell, by any means necessary.
Encourage Biden to do more, not less
For more than eight months, Griner has endured detainment in one of the most authoritarian regimes on the planet over a trumped up drug charge. Russian dictator Putin is clearly using Griner as a political pawn while he threatens the West with nuclear war in an effort to seize control over the sovereign nation of Ukraine.
Many have criticized Biden for seeking the release of Griner from Russia while Americans remain shackled under mass incarceration due to the U.S. War on Drugs, and rightly so. But Biden’s recent decision to pardon those with simple marijuana possession convictions indicates he’s at least beginning to understand the hypocrisy and is taking actions, however small, to correct it.
Near the end of July, the Biden administration took major steps in doing so when it offered a deal to Russia for Griner’s release. Russia turned it down, and some may see the situation as hopeless.
We can’t let Brittney Griner spend another birthday in Russia
But the fact that Putin turned it down doesn’t mean we should let Griner go quietly into the night. Now is the time to show Biden we support his efforts and that we collectively demand more must be done. Much of a president’s actions are determined by public popularity, and if the voices telling him to stop are louder than the voices telling him to keep going, Biden won’t be incentivized to take action.
Russia has warned that raising noise in the streets about Brittney Griner will be seen as interfering with negotiations. Since when do we take marching orders from a dictatorship?
Griner has become an international symbol for Russia’s efforts to bury the world in autocracy. How we respond will become a symbol for the power of democracy.
Griner has boldly played and won the highest accolades for the United States, with a decorated history of having America’s back. It’s time America returns the favor.