Detained basketball star and Nimitz High School product Brittney Griner has always represented Houston well, whether it be at Baylor, with WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury or on the global stage as a two-time Olympic gold medalist for her country.
On Monday, the city of Houston returned the favor by representing Griner — known simply as BG — and making sure her plight isn’t forgotten as she sits in a Russian jail in Moscow for now over 100 days. The WNBA star, who plays in Russia during the offseason, has been detained since February after vape cartridges filled with cannabis oil were allegedly found in her luggage at a Russian airport near Moscow as she attempted to return home to the U.S.
Griner could be facing as many as 10 years in prison in Russia, although she has yet to receive a hearing on her case. Meanwhile, the U.S. and Russia are at odds over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has many feeling as though Griner is a political pawn in Vladimir Putin’s spat with the U.S.
The U.S. Justice Department and President Joe Biden have declared Griner wrongfully detained.
So, Monday’s quickly put together demonstration outside of the Toyota Center, organized by Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, was part rally, part prayer vigil and part concert to show support for Griner and to demand, “Bring Brittney home.”
“We are here to say that hearing that’s designated for June, is what we want is Brittney Griner home …” Jackson Lee said from the podium. “What we know is, she is a hostage that needs to be released right now.”
Chants of “Bring Brittney home! Bring Brittney home,” could then be heard.
Jackson Lee used her influence to bring in dignitaries like Commissioner Rodney Ellis and State Representative Ron Reynolds along with recently released Russian captive Trevor Reed. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner was attending a conference for mayors in Nevada when he received the call from Jackson Lee this week about the rally.
Turner left the conference early and jumped on a red-eye flight so that he could be in attendance.
“Let me just say to the leaders of the country that is holding her, let her go,” said Turner, who declared June 6, 2022 as Brittney Griner Day in Houston. “Set her free, and not on a political note, but because she represents what this city is all about. Her family is here. This is someone who has literally given everything to this city, to this state and to this country.”
Bishop James Dixon delivered the most impassioned speech as he joined the “Bring Brittney home” chorus. He encouraged the larger community to get behind freeing Griner.
“It should not be a few us, it should be all Americans saying, ‘Let’s stand for justice and let’s call for action,’” Dixon said. “Putin, Russia, release this young lady. She has no reason to be there in your jail.”
All photos by Jimmie Aggison