By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
The images remain surreal. WNBA Star Brittney Griner walked across a tarmac in Saudi Arabia and met face-to-face with Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
Having agreed to the exchange, America couldn’t have intended the face-to-face – though it proved incident free.
While serving a 25-year prison sentence in Illinois, Bout headed back to Moscow. Griner, unlawfully detained and stuck in a prison colony on a nine-year sentence since her drug conviction earlier this fall, headed to Texas.
“The fact remains that she’s lost months of her life, experienced needless trauma, and she deserves space, privacy, and time with her loved ones to recover and heal from her time being wrongfully detained,” President Joe Biden declared.
Biden noted that Griner had never pleaded for special treatment. Instead, she wanted freedom for her, and other Americans unjustly imprisoned in Russia’s harsh Soviet-era style conditions and those detained in other nations.
“She said, ‘please don’t forget about me and the other American detainees,’” Biden shared from his July correspondence with Griner.
She said, ‘please do all you can to bring us home.’”
For varying reasons, Griner’s return home last week resonated with so many.
“We are taking a collective breath because she’s home,” political expert and strategist Amani Wells-Onyioha, told the National Newspaper Publishers Association’s Let It Be Known live morning show.
“It took much longer than we anticipated, but it was a great and smart move for Biden. Hopefully, he will continue to help make the Black community happy over the next two years because we still think he has a lot to prove,” Wells-Onyioha insisted.
She believes that Biden’s work to free Griner and other efforts to secure a level playing field for African Americans can help Democrats now and in the future.
“I understand the frustration that a lot of Black voters have with the Democratic Party because we are often used as like a big pillar of that vote,” Wells-Onyioha stated, echoing words she wrote in a national column.
“A lot of Black people feel jaded because they feel like once the election is secured, and we come out in record numbers more every year, that not a lot of tangible results are being applied to the lives of everyday Black folks in this country.”
Like Wells-Onyioha, the Biden administration believes allowing Griner adequate recovery time is crucial.
However, unless there’s a resolution to other hostages like former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, imprisoned in Russia for nearly four years, Griner will remain a hot topic – even a source of outrage from some.
“She will be offered appropriate care and support from the U.S. government, including medical screenings,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre asserted.
When he learned of Griner’s release, Whelan was displeased.
“I am greatly disappointed that more had not been done to secure my release, especially as the four-year anniversary of my arrest is coming up,” Whelan, 52, told CNN from a penal colony.
“I was arrested for a crime that never occurred,” he said, perhaps a not-too-subtle shot at Griner, who admitted to illegally carrying a small amount of cannabis oil.
“I don’t understand why I’m still sitting here,” Whelan demanded.
Wells-Onyioha said the specter of Whelan still in custody is another issue facing Griner when and if she does a sit-down interview with the media.
“I understand Whelan’s concerns,” Wells-Onyioha noted.
“I think the reason they pressed to get Brittney home was that her arrest was ridiculous,” she said.
“She played basketball over there and won for their team. The arrest clearly was a slap in the face to Biden and a response to Biden backing Ukraine in the war.”
Wells-Onyioha agreed that the prisoner swap sending Bout home wasn’t an equal trade.
“Not for someone who is all about death for all Americans, for someone who just had a little [cannabis oil] on her,” Wells-Onyioha reasoned.
“But Russia needed leverage,” she said.
Jean-Pierre asserted that the Biden administration tried to include Whelan in the swap, but Russian officials said it was Griner or nobody.
“This was not a choice for us of which American to bring home,” Jean-Pierre said.
“That was not the choice. It was a choice between bringing home one American or bringing home none.”