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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