Point of View Columns

Brittney Griner and Justice in Russia v. Justice in America

The case of Brittney Griner and Russia is difficult and troubling from any perspective. We can begin with the fact that would seem that there is no system of real justice in Russia if a person – Russian or not – should be sentenced to nine years in a penal colony for mere possession of a miniscule amount of a controlled substance. And all of this must be seen within the context of the global dueling taking place between Russia and the United States and the fact that she is now a pawn in a very real and deadly Game of Thrones.

American news coverage of the Brittney Griner story has been nonstop since February -as it should be. The fact that she is a celebrated athlete has focused more attention on her situation as opposed to the cases of other detained Americans. Nevertheless, no one can honestly criticize the press coverage of the Griner Case.

But there is a lot to be said about the one-sided and myopic commentary from the press and politicians alike with respect to the harsh and unfair Russian criminal justice system as if the American criminal justice system is fair and free from vengeance. Consider a few facts:

  1. It has been noted that 99% of Russian criminal cases end up with a conviction. In the United States 72% of all criminal cases end up with a conviction.
  2. The United States has 4% of the world’s population and 21% of the world’s prison population
  3. The United States has an incarceration rate of 716/100,000 – in Russia, the rate of 476/100,000
  4. And of course, the list goes on and on.

The point is that the America press is acting as if it is shocked by the harshness of the Russian criminal justice system, while by any useful criteria, it is the United States that hold the current world record for harshest criminal justice system.

Perhaps the press can direct some of its dismay and outrage directed at Russia to the daily injustices that take place in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. And while it cannot be expected that every case in every city in every state can be covered as closely as the Brittney Griner case, if not the press who is going to focus attention on the daily injustice embedded and residing in the American system of justice.

So, as we all watch with dismay as the case of Britney Griner goes forward, when it comes to criticizing the justice systems in Russia and around the world, it would be wise to remember America/Americans criticizing the Russian criminal just it is truly a case of the American pot calling the Russian pot black.

We can hope that justice for Britney Griner means a return to the United States. We can agree that the Russian laws and justice system are draconian and unfair.

And we should keep in mind that what Ms. Griner is enduring is what thousands of Black and Latino men, women, boys and girls endure every day. The racial disparity in the American criminal justice system is an institutional disgrace that has its roots in the 1600’s and its most bitter fruit is harvested still in 2022.

Hopefully the hypocrisy of criticizing the Russian criminal justice system while ignoring the fact that the American criminal justice system is actually, by any objective criteria, worse, will end.

Hopefully we can finally see “justice” in the American criminal justice system.

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Point of View Columns

Pelosi and Taiwan and Poking the Bear and a History Lesson

If there are any historians around 500 years from now, an academic specializing in Ancient American History will be tackling a never solved question – why, in August of 2022, did United States Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi decide that it was a good idea? All writings from the time will yield nothing that seems like a satisfactory answer because it would seem self-evident, viewed through a 500-year lens, that there would seem to be no possible good that could have come from that trip.

Of course, we are in the here and now, and the rationale for the Pelosi in Wonderland Tour has ranged from the Speaker of the House can travel anywhere in the world, whenever she wants to it is critically important that on August2, 2022 the highest ranking American official to visit Taiwan since Newt Gingrich in 1997 just had to be in Taipei.

No matter that the China of 1997 is not the China of 2022.

No matter that Xi Jin Ping has become the very clear leader of a China that is on a path to global importance that has not been seen in centuries.

No matter that the very existence of an independent Taiwan, buttressed by support from Americans and Europeans is a constant reminder of the humiliation visited upon China by Americans and Europeans for several centuries. (more on that in a moment)

What is clear is that somehow, in the middle of a continuing global pandemic, a war in Ukraine that is a few missteps from engulfing a good part of the planet and a global economy that is spinning madly to who knows where, the Pelosi Braintrust (now there is an oxymoron) thought it was a good idea for her to visit Taiwan. And we should keep in mind that the Taiwanese leadership has not stayed in control in Taiwan, less than 80 miles from China by poking the bear unnecessarily. In other words, this visit was engineered by Nancy Pelosi herself and so-called “hawks” in America (“hawks” who never seem to find their way to a battlefield) who thought that it was important to poke the Bear Called China in order to prove American strength and superiority and not the government of Taiwan.

The best way to explain the peril of this particular strategy is for Americans to suspend their knowledge of history and imagine that a few hundred years ago the Chinese Empire, with superior weapons and technology, took over major parts of America. Subjugating Americans, degrading American culture and religion and treating this country (along with the Japanese Empire) imposed a colonial structure on Americans.

Imagine that American churches and cultural buildings were defiled and destroyed. Imagine that American women were treated as whores or servants and that American men were considered to be disposable labor that could be shipped to China to work in mines or infrastructure projects until they died. And imagine that at some point the Chinese left but considered California to be a colonial possession because of its gold and agriculture.

Imagine that after the Civil War the defeated Confederates fled to what is now Florida and declared it an independent state and that China recognized the Republic of Florida as an independent state although the American government had never agreed to such an arrangement.

Now imagine that over a century later America has gained new strength and power. Now America reclaims California because it had always been a part of America until the Chinese came along. Now America resents the Republic of Florida as an insult to its sovereignty and does not accept the Republic as a permanent arrangement, especially since the Chinese continue to assert the independence of the Republic of Florida as a nation worth defending with Chinese blood and treasure.

If you can imagine this historical arrangement and change the time and place and players you can begin to understand that China’s concerns regarding the West are not imaginary. The Chinese suffered degradation and humiliation at the hands of the West for centuries even though the West acts like the past – particularly the uncomfortable truth about the past – is no relevant.

But sometimes it is good to look at the world through the eyes of the person on the other side of the table.

Clearly Speaker Pelosi and her enablers have failed to do that and the world is less safe today because of her thoughtless actions.

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