On June 27, Griner appeared briefly in public. At a short hearing, a judge announced that her trial would start this Friday, July 1, and that she would remain jailed for the duration of her trial. Her detention has been extended three times now, and the authorities have plastered her photo all over Russian state television—a clear taunt at the United States when US-Russian tensions are their highest since the Cold War.
At the time of last week’s march, Griner had been detained in Russia for 123 days, and had not spoken to her wife, friends, and teammates during that period. One day prior to the march, on their fourth wedding anniversary, Griner’s wife, Cherelle, was supposed to have her first phone call since Brittney’s arrest. But that call never went through. The US Embassy in Russia failed to provide a staff member to pick up the phone, as Cherelle Griner explained to the Associated Press. Brittney Griner tried to call her wife 11 times on June 19. Each time, the call went unanswered. “I find it unacceptable, and I have zero trust in our government right now,” Cherelle said. “If I can’t trust you to catch a Saturday call outside of business hours, how can I trust you to actually be negotiating on my wife’s behalf to come home? Because that’s a much bigger ask than to catch a Saturday call.”
The next day, Cherelle continued her fight for her wife’s release, supporting protests in Phoenix and New York. She called into a Harlem protest as an organizer pressed a phone against a microphone so Cherelle could be heard by the crowd. “I just want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart for saying my wife’s name,” she said. “No justice for any of us if there’s no justice for BG. So thank you for pushing every single second right now.”
With this protest, seasoned organizers from the movements for Black liberation added their voices and movement tactics to those whose calls for Griner’s release have, for many months, seemingly fallen mostly on deaf ears in Congress and the White House.
Jumaane Williams, New York City public advocate and a candidate in next week’s New York State gubernatorial primary, told the protesters why he thought Griner’s supporters have been ignored: “If this wasn’t a Black woman…all of the media, all over, would be talking about this case. I was told it was some kind of strategy not to do it, to try to help. But I think that 123 days later…everybody now knows who Brittney Griner is. So, there’s no strategy here. What we have is exactly what I said: A Black woman that is being ignored. If she looked a different way, maybe if she loved someone differently, maybe if she wasn’t a woman in sports… There’s so much intersection in this one case here. I can’t imagine a man in the NBA being stuck in a Russian jail and everybody not shutting it down and trying to bring him home.… So we’re asking this country: Please step up and free Brittney Griner.”
Cherelle Griner has made public pleas to speak to President Biden but has been denied.
Kaitlyn Chesney, a friend of the Griners’ and law school classmate of Cherelle, spoke to the difficulties Brittney’s family and friends are experiencing. “It’s a helpless feeling,” she said during the rally. “These are the only things that we can do, but it’s still not enough. It’s also hard…to find the words to say to Cherelle,” as months pass without news of her wife.
Expect more marches as long as Brittney Griner remains incarcerated in Russia. Cherelle, friends, and family waited for the State Department’s back channel approach to work. That failed, and until the US government takes this case seriously, they have no other recourse than to take to the streets.