Biden and Harris held a call with Brittney Griner’s wife, vowing to bring her home

President Joe Biden read to Cherelle Griner a draft of the letter he plans to send to the WNBA star on Wednesday.

The White House announced on Wednesday that President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris held a call with Brittney Griner’s wife and assured her that the administration is doing all it can to bring home the 31-year-old WNBA star, who is being wrongfully detained in Russia.

President Joe Biden and Brittney Griner
President Joe Biden and Brittney Griner. (Photo: KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP via Getty Images, Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

In a readout provided to the press, Biden officials said the president and Harris reassured Cherelle Griner that they are working to secure Brittney’s release – as well as other U.S. nationals wrongfully detained or held hostage in Russia and elsewhere – “as soon as possible.”

President Biden also read to Cherelle a draft of the letter he plans to send to Brittney Griner on Wednesday. This comes two days after the Olympic athlete sent a letter to the president on the Fourth of July, urging him not to “forget about me.”

During Tuesday’s press briefing, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre acknowledged that she was in the room when President Biden read Griner’s letter, in which she said she voted for the first time in the 2020 presidential election for Biden. Speaking about the significance of Independence Day, she wrote, “freedom means something completely different to me this year.”

Jean-Pierre told White House reporters that Griner’s case “is very personal to him.”

Griner has been detained in Russia for more than 4 months after she was arrested and charged for possession of cannabis oil while traveling through a Moscow airport. She is currently on trial and, if convicted, faces up to 10 years behind bars.

WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner is escorted to a courtroom for a hearing, in Khimki just outside Moscow, Russia, Monday, June 27, 2022. More than four months after she was arrested at a Moscow airport for cannabis possession, American basketball star Brittney Griner is to appear in court Monday for a preliminary hearing ahead of her trial. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Kassandra Frederique, executive director at Drug Policy Alliance, told theGrio that she thinks that “Brittney’s situation is one of gross overcharging and it’s really unfortunate.”

She noted that the way state officials categorize drug cases greatly impacts the consequences an individual faces.

“When people want to acknowledge that something is for personal use versus when they want to claim someone is smuggling…is often used as a way to up charges and to lose sympathy for someone,” said Frederique. “We as a society really despise people who use drugs, but we also really despise people who sell drugs.”

During a preliminary hearing last week, Griner was ordered to remain in Russian custody at least until Dec. 20.

In her letter to Biden, Griner said she missed her loved ones and expressed her fear that she may never see them again. “As I sit here in a Russian prison, alone with my thoughts and without the protection of my wife, family, friends, Olympic jersey, or any accomplishments, I’m terrified I might be here forever,” she wrote.

Last Friday marked the start of Griner’s criminal trial and some believe that the basketball player is being treated more harshly because of her race and sexual orientation.

Frederique told theGrio that “drug laws” across the globe disproportionately impact members of the Black and LGBTQ+ communities which are two groups that Griner identifies with.

Brittney Griner #42 of the Phoenix Mercury walks hand and hand with wife Cherelle Watson after defeating the Dallas Wings at Feld Entertainment Center on August 10, 2020 in Palmetto, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

“The drug war has always been a tool of anti-Black racism,” said Frederique. “If you look at different countries and Black people are present, or whoever is perceived as the group of people that has the least amount of power, those people tend to experience drug war policies the most severely.”

In May, the State Department acknowledged that Griner is being wrongfully detained and tasked its Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs with handling her case. Following calls held between Cherelle Griner and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and National Security Advisor Sullivan, Biden directed his national security team to remain in regular contact with Cherelle and Brittney’s family to keep them updated on efforts to secure her release “as quickly as possible.”

Frederique said that Brittney Griner’s case highlights the importance for everyone to know the law of the land as it relates to drug use or possession. 

“People have to know what the laws are and understand how to keep themselves safe if they’re going to partake,” she said. “But that doesn’t guarantee that they will be OK. Which is Brittney’s case. 

However, she also noted that you “take all the precautions” and still be “targeted.” 

“I think part of it is how do we increase our agency and what are people doing to actually change the laws in this country and [across the world],” she added.

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