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Whitlock: Brittney Griner’s Russian ‘Brokedown Palace’ less disappointing than America’s January 6 ‘Midnight Express’

Jason Miller / Contributor, Christian Petersen / Staff | Getty Images

I grew up believing America’s imperfect criminal justice system was the fairest in the world. My schoolteachers taught me that as a child.

They warned that America’s primary rival, the Soviet Union/Russia, practiced a cleverly disguised system of oppression and corruption, in which citizens were powerless against government forces. They said American citizenship was a privilege, that people in other countries would do virtually anything to enjoy our rights and freedom.

Popular culture reinforced the narratives I learned in school. I’ll never forget the first time I watched the 1978 movie "Midnight Express." It was an adaptation of the life of Billy Hayes, an American vacationing in Turkey. Turkish police captured him at the airport in possession of two kilograms of hash. He was sentenced to four years in prison for possession. Shortly before his release, the prosecutor changed Billy’s conviction to smuggling, and he was resentenced to 30 years. Billy was beaten and raped in prison. The food was terrible.

I remember making a mental note that I did not ever want to break the law in a foreign country.

Years later, I watched the 1999 movie "Brokedown Palace." It was a fictional movie about two American girls vacationing in Thailand. A slick Australian man tricked them into smuggling heroin. Thai police captured them at the airport. They were sentenced to 33 years. A corrupt prosecutor later added 15 years to their sentence.

"Brokedown Palace" reinforced my commitment never to break the law while traveling abroad.

I bring all this up to make a point about Brittney Griner, the WNBA player jailed in Russia for possessing a small amount of hashish at a Russian airport. She’s suffering in a "Wokedown Palace." I don’t make the reference to vilify Griner. Who knows whether she really broke the law? I certainly don’t.

Brittney Griner got arrested in the absolute wrong place at the absolute wrong time.

It baffles me that the American media are attempting to make what’s happening to Griner an example of American racism. The Los Angeles Times recently published a piece by the great Bill Plaschke that vilified America for what’s happening to Brittney Griner in Russia. The piece argues that American racism is the reason Griner isn’t at home safe, sound, and spending the millions she earned playing basketball in Russia.

Plaschke wrote: “She’s black. She’s covered in tattoos. She has dreadlocks. She’s gay. She doesn’t fit America’s image of the ideal female athlete, so America is pretty much shrugging. If this had been Brady, we’d be going to war right now.”

Plaschke quoted Griner’s WNBA coach Vanessa Nygaard making this allegation: “If it was LeBron James, he’d be home, right? It’s a statement about the value of women, it’s a statement about the value of a black person. It’s a statement about the value of a gay person – all those things. We know it and so that’s what hurts a little more.”

Russia locks up a 6-foot-8 black woman for a tiny amount of hash, and it’s America’s fault. Really? What’s the matter with us? Are we really filled with this much self-hate?

I have experience in dealing with a foreign country that wrongly incarcerated a black American citizen. In 2016, Chinese police arrested a former Ball State University linebacker, Wendell Brown, for a minor bar altercation. Wendell spent three years locked up inside a Chinese prison. For his release, China’s corrupt criminal justice system required that the alleged “victim” needed to be paid $40,000. I paid it. Wendell came home in September 2019. He’s a great young man.

Chinese culture is hostile toward black people – unless you’re tall and play basketball. LeBron James won’t tell you that. No one associated with the NBA will state this obvious fact. Money is their ruler, not truth.

Like LeBron James, Brittney Griner is a globalist. She’ll go anywhere and say anything for the paycheck. Dissatisfied with her WNBA salary, Griner traveled to Russia to earn her millions. There’s a cost to the global agenda – a loss of American rights, customs, and freedom.

Griner earns approximately $221,000 a season in the WNBA. That’s a more than fair salary for a league that loses millions of dollars each year and is basically a charity financed by the NBA. WNBA players and their supporters disagree. American sexism is why WNBA players don’t earn millions playing a game virtually no one in America will pay to watch. According to the globalists, America is always the bad guy. America is always evil.

Griner is getting a taste of Russian oppression. It tastes like 1800s America, a time Griner knows nothing about. We can only hope that when she does return to America, she’ll muster the courage to sing this country’s praises.

This week, she wrote President Joe Biden a letter begging him to secure her release. WNBA and NBA players have spent the last five years demonizing America. Griner refused to stand for the national anthem. LeBron James and the NBA swallowed the entire Black Lives Matter agenda. Sitting in a Russian jail, Griner has rediscovered her patriotism.

“On the Fourth of July, our family normally honors the service of those who fought for our freedom, including my father who is a Vietnam War veteran,” Griner wrote. “It hurts thinking about how I usually celebrate this day because freedom means something completely different to me this year.”

Bottom line: I have more sympathy for Ashli Babbitt and the incarcerated January 6 protesters than I do for Brittney Griner. I say that because I’m not shocked or surprised that Russia would make an American citizen a political prisoner. It’s exactly what my schoolteachers told me Russia did.

I naively expected more from our criminal justice system.

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