Clergy continues to call for humanitarian trip to Russia for Brittney Griner’s return amid White House negotiations

When asked if the Biden administration would support a religious delegation to Russia if negotiations with Russia failed, John Kirby told the Grio, “I don’t want to speculate on a speculation here.”

Lawyers continue to call for a religious delegation trip to Russia to return WNBA star Brittney Griner to the United States, as Griner nears the end of his criminal trial and negotiations between the Kremlin and the White House are continuing.

The Reverend William Barber of the Campaign for the Poor and Repairers of the Breach told the Grio that he and a group of various religious leaders were prepared, with the help of the US government, to make such a trip to Russia on a purely humanitarian.

Reverend William Barber speaks during a protest at the United States Supreme Court during the MoveOn and Poor People’s Build Back Better action on November 15, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images for MoveOn)

“We would be ready to bring together this kind of diverse coalition… get on a plane and go to Moscow and talk to whoever it is to say, ‘Let’s drop the swords, the separation and end all the schemes and games and just be human for a second and do the right thing,” Barber said.

“We say to Putin and the White House, we should take this as a moral issue. What did this woman do to even be in court facing ten years in prison? »

Barber added, “It’s utterly ridiculous when you think about it from a moral standpoint, and we just want to know that we’re ready to participate in any way that makes sense.”

The activist and preacher said if Griner was his daughter, he would “hope the same thing would happen.”

Reverend Al Sharpton, who first called for a trip to Russia among religious leaders last month, reiterated to the Grio that he wanted to visit clergy “for moral reasons”.

“She needs to understand that people are with her and she’s not forgotten,” Sharpton said.

The famous minister and civil rights activist said he was first forced to take a clergy trip after speaking to and hearing the anguish of Brittney Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner.

U.S. Reverend Al Sharpton (C) speaks during a news conference supporting the release of professional basketball player Brittney Griner July 8, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois, who pleaded guilty to drug charges in Russia .  (Photo by MAX HERMAN/AFP) (Photo by MAX HERMAN/AFP via Getty Images)

U.S. Reverend Al Sharpton (C) speaks during a news conference supporting the release of professional basketball player Brittney Griner July 8, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois, who pleaded guilty to drug charges in Russia . (Photo by MAX HERMAN/AFP) (Photo by MAX HERMAN/AFP via Getty Images)

“[She] said [Brittney’s] in prison about two and a half hours from Moscow. Most people don’t even speak English there,” said Sharpton, who said he was “concerned about his spiritual and mental health.”

Griner continues to be tried for allegedly unknowingly possessing less than one gram of cannabis oil in her luggage while on a trip to Russia, where she plays professional basketball during the WNBA offseason. The 31-year-old has pleaded guilty in hopes of receiving a lesser sentence and is expected to speak in court ahead of sentencing.

Despite the lawsuit, the US government continues to use its geopolitical leverage to bring Griner home from what it has determined to be wrongful detention. Last week, the State Department confirmed that it had made an offer to Russia for a prisoner exchange to bring back Griner and Paul Whelan, another American imprisoned by the Kremlin since 2018. However, Russia reportedly did a counter-offer that the United States deemed “not serious,” and so far no agreement has been reached.

Asked by the Grio at Tuesday’s White House press conference if the Biden administration was confident in its ability to strike such a deal with Russia – which is currently locked in a geopolitical dispute with the United States amid of Russia’s unprovoked war in Ukraine – John Kirby, the White House coordinator for strategic communications at the National Security Council, said the administration “won’t negotiate this thing in public.”

“I don’t think it’s helpful for Paul or for Brittney, for us from the podium to chat with the Russians about what the negotiations might or might not look like,” Kirby told the Grio. “We made a serious proposal, made a serious offer, and we urge the Russians to accept this offer because it was made with sincerity. And we know we can save it.

He added: “Ultimately, we want to see Brittney and Paul go home to their families, where they belong. And the president takes that responsibility seriously.

National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby, right, answers questions from White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre (L) during the daily briefing at the White House on August 02, 2022 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby, right, answers questions from White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre (L) during the daily briefing at the White House on August 02, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Asked if the Biden White House would support a religious delegation trip to Russia if negotiations with Russia break down, Kirby told the Grio, “I don’t want to speculate on an assumption here. I would just like to tell you that we are working hard, government to government, to bring Paul and Brittney home. He added: “So much so that we’ve come up with a very serious proposal and I think I’m going to leave it at that.”

Meanwhile, activists and those close to Griner are doing their part to keep the national attention on his detention in Russia and ensure his safe return. Griner’s wife Cherelle, his agent Lindsay Kagawa Colas, his teammates, and the WNBA organized and attended rallies calling for Griner’s release.

Karen Finney, a senior Democratic strategist, worked with Colas and advocacy groups to organize Griner’s return home. Finney helped lead the signing of a letter of more than 1,000 black women representing a collective of civil rights, human rights, women’s rights, and LGBTQ+ organizations.

Finney told the Grio that she was compelled to get involved in efforts to return Griner to the United States because the Olympic gold medalist “represents, under her various identities, American history so eloquently. “.

Brittney Griner #15 of Team USA poses for photos with her gold medal during the women's basketball medal ceremony on day sixteen of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Saitama Super Arena on 08 August 2021 in Saitama, Japan.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Brittney Griner #15 of Team USA poses for photos with her gold medal during the women’s basketball medal ceremony on day sixteen of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Saitama Super Arena on 08 August 2021 in Saitama, Japan. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Finney, who competed in varsity sports, said she also saw an opportunity for the universal love of sports to be an effective tool in coercing Griner’s release.

“Sport has the unique power to unite people across the world – that’s what the Olympics are about,” Finney told the Grio.

Whether it’s the Olympics or the World Cup, Finney pointed out that athletes cross international borders to compete in a variety of sports that the global community knows and loves. “Brittney’s detention threatens the sanctity of sport and the safety of athletes who travel and compete internationally,” Finney said.

Reverend Sharpton echoed those sentiments, telling the Grio that what Russia did to Griner “will scare athletes to go anywhere in the world.” He added: “The world should not be so isolated that athletes feel they have to stay at home, even in unfair economic conditions, because they could be used as a political chessboard like a pawn.”

Last month, Griner pleaded with President Joe Biden in a letter do everything he can to ensure his return to the United States “I still have so much to do with my freedom that you can help restore,” she wrote. “I miss my wife! I miss my family! I miss my teammates! It kills me to know that they are in so much pain right now. I appreciate whatever you can do at this time to bring me home .

In response, President Biden sent a personal letter to Griner, assuring him that the White House was doing everything to ensure his safe return. Cherelle, in a previous interview with theGriosaid the president also offered to visit her and Griner’s family at the White House.

Cherelle at the time urged the public to raise their voices for Brittney. “BG is the kind of person who, if the tables were turned, would use their platform to make a difference,” Cherelle explained. “She cares about everyone, and now is the time to care about her. So keep lifting her up. Keep making noise around her until the day we see her again.

Gerren Keith Gaynor

Gerren Keith Gaynor

Gerren Keith Gaynor is Politics editor and Washington correspondent at The Grio. He is based in Washington, D.C.

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