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In a country that has tried to break down Black people for 400 years, President Joe Biden’s successful trade freeing Brittney Griner from the jaws of Russia is a major symbolic step toward lifting up and protecting Black women.
For nearly 10 months, WNBA champion and two-time gold medalist Griner has suffered in Russia after the totalitarian regime convicted her to 9 1/2 years in a penal colony on a trumped up drug charge. Many doubted Biden’s ability to secure her release at all as Vladimir Putin continues to wage a war against Ukraine that risks global conflict.
“Moments ago I spoke to Brittney Griner. She is safe. She is on her way home,” Biden tweeted Thursday morning. He admitted that Russia dictated the terms of the trade, adding that it wasn’t a choice about which American to bring home. In a video of the prisoner swap released by Russian state media, Griner’s hair appeared to be cut short.
— philip lewis (@Phil_Lewis_) December 8, 2022
Despite being heartbroken over the continued imprisonment of Paul Whelan, whom Russia convicted on charges of espionage, his brother reportedly told CNN he was happy for the Griner family. So, why are critics coming out of the woodwork to slam the decision?
The brother of Paul Whelan just said on CNN that he’s happy for Brittney Griner’s family. Powerful.
— Natasha S. Alford (@NatashaSAlford) December 8, 2022
Critics were quick to pounce on the historic prisoner swap.
A former Trump administration official claimed Russia was stronger as a result of the swap, which saw the U.S. release Victor Bout back to Putin.
Joe Biden admits Vladimir Putin dictated the exchange:
“This was not a choice of which American to bring home,” Biden said.
Putin wanted the Merchant of Death home in Russia and only offered a basketball player who carried pot in her luggage as a swap.@JakeSullivan46 fail!
— Richard Grenell (@RichardGrenell) December 8, 2022
Critics upset Biden traded “Merchant of Death” for Griner
Bout received his infamous nickname “the Merchant of Death,” for his notorious arms sales that contributed to the killings of innocent people around the world. He was sentenced in 2012 to 25 years in prison for attempting to sell millions of dollars in weapons to Colombian terrorists as part of a plot to kill Americans, ABC News reported at the time.
But is this really why former Trump official Richard Grenell and others like him are mad? Or is it because Biden secured the release of a Black woman before being able to free a White man?
Paul Whelan and his family have been desperately seeking his release from Russia for years, but the vast majority of Americans had no idea about his plight until Griner was imprisoned.
Without the nationwide exposure Brittney Griner brought to Americans imprisoned in Russia, most Americans wouldn’t be talking about it at all. So, instead of spending energy finding any reason to criticize our president for this historic action, we should be celebrating the fact that Biden has freed an American from a totalitarian regime.
For their part, Paul Whelan’s family expressed disappointment as well, understandably. If my family member’s health was deteriorating while remaining trapped in a foreign country, I wouldn’t be satisfied until they were home either.
NEW: Paul Whelan’s brother says the US government advised the Whelan family yesterday that he would not be part of the swap.
“That early warning meant that our family has been able to mentally prepare for what is now a public disappointment for us. And a catastrophe for Paul.”
— Steven Portnoy (@stevenportnoy) December 8, 2022
Anytime an American is unjustly imprisoned in a foreign country, each day they remain trapped is a catastrophe that should be rectified. But let’s not pretend that the Whelan family didn’t benefit from the high-profile attention Griner’s case received.
In fact, Whelan’s family had been trying for years to get a meeting with a president during the Trump administration. It wasn’t until President Biden chose to visit Griner’s wife, Cherelle, that the Whelan family was able to enjoy the same privilege.
Some people hate to see justice for Black women
Still, critics are coming out of the woodwork to belittle the decision to trade Bout for Griner. If the brother of Paul Whelan expresses happiness for the Brittney Griner family, why can’t all Americans express that same solidarity?
Let’s not forget the fact that while the White LGBTQIA community is quick to call out Black people who express homophobia, their relative silence concerning a Black, lesbian hostage spoke volumes. Still, the chorus of voices who sustained calls for releasing Griner proved a sweeter sound that the critics crying against it.
In a call with reporters on Thursday, a Biden official explained the decision to trade Bout for Griner after the Grio’s April Ryan asked whether the decision sets a precedent.
Administrations have long resisted, wherever possible, releasing individuals early from our justice system, who have earned their share time in our law enforcement system, a senior White House official told reporters.
And at the same time, administrations before ours, also made exceptions to that in extraordinary and rare cases, where that had proven through extensive negotiations, the only way to bring an American home, they added.
Brittney Griner is coming home
The White House stressed the fact that countries shouldn’t view this decision as the norm, and that it doesn’t take away the pain Paul Whelan continues to endure. Officials also expressed gratitude for Griner supporters who’ve continuously raised their voices.
Yet in a country that has for 400 years placed the needs of Black women on the sidelines, Biden’s historic prisoner swap for Brittney Griner shows it is possible for the United States to center the voices of the people who built this country.
As of Thursday morning, Brittney Griner was on a flight heading back to the U.S. Her wife, Cherelle, expressed gratitude for everyone involved in securing Griner’s release, and she made it clear she stands in solidarity with the Whelan family.
“I will gladly speak on her behalf and say that BG and I will remain committed to the work of getting every American home, including Paul [Whelan], whose family is in our hearts today as we celebrate BG being home,” she said.
“So, over the last nine months, y’all have been so privy to one of the darkest moments of my life. And so today, I’m just standing here, overwhelmed with emotions -> pic.twitter.com/U0G6KoLGAl
— The Black Wall Street Times (@TheBWSTimes) December 8, 2022
Griner will be offered a wide range of support through a program to help those returning from being hostage or being wrongfully detained.
Critics can stay mad if they want, but the rest of us “real” Americans will be celebrating our sister’s return home.