Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday August 6, 2022
Nine Years? Brittney Griner Is a Political Prisoner
Brittney Griner has been sentenced to nine years in a Russian penal colony for possessing a tiny amount of cannabis oil. Griner’s case was never about a minor offense against Russia law (which was real, for what that’s worth). It’s about what kind of country Russia has become as its president, Vladimir Putin, has descended into anti-Western hysteria while initiating foreign wars and ramping up internal repression.
Griner was arrested just days before the invasion of Ukraine, which is to say that she was grabbed after Putin and his circle had almost certainly made the decision to go to war. She was perfect for the part that the Russians wanted her to play as a possible bargaining chip. She is a prominent American, but not too prominent. She is gay, Black, and covered in tattoos, the kind of defendant for whom the average Russian will have no sympathy. Detaining her for a minor drug charge must have been an easy call for the Russian intelligence services.
Better yet for the Kremlin, the American determination to get her back home serves a Russian-propaganda purpose. Russia does not value all its citizens equally; some Russians matter and others vanish without trace. The efforts to spring Griner, however, almost certainly feed into a Russian narrative that America, too, does not care about all of its citizens equally and that we value racial or sexual minorities disproportionately—exactly the case that anti-Western hysterics like Putin have been making for years. Look at the effort the Americans put into getting this person back, the Russians will say later. That’s who they care about.