Houston leaders, community rally outside Toyota Center demanding release of WNBA star Brittney Griner

Here's what we know

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee held a vigil and a rally on Monday evening to raise awareness and demand the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner.

Jackson Lee was joined by several community leaders including Commissioner Rodney Ellis and Texas Representative Ron Reynolds.

For three hours, Houstonians were singing, praying and performing during the emotional rally.

“It should not be a few us, it should be all Americans saying, ‘Let’s stand for justice and let’s call for action.’ Putin, Russia, release this young lady. She has no reason to be there in your jail,” said Bishop James Dixon with Houston NAACP.

Griner is a Houston-native and a graduate of Nimitz High School and a former student of Baylor University. Griner has been detained in Russia for 105 days after vape cartridges containing oil derived from cannabis were allegedly found in her luggage at an airport near Moscow.

Griner faces drug smuggling charges that carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. Another American regarded as unjustly detained in Russia is Paul Whelan, a corporate security executive from Michigan. Whelan was arrested in December 2018 while visiting for a friend’s wedding and was later sentenced to 16 years in prison on espionage-related charges his family has said are unfounded.

Marine veteran Trevor Reed, who also had been jailed in Russia for nearly three years, was released in late April as part of an unexpected prisoner exchange involving a convicted Russian drug trafficker serving a long prison sentence in America. He spoke at the rally in Houston on Monday, saying Griner is being wrongfully detained and it’s beyond time to bring her home.

Last month, the Biden administration said Griner, 31, is being wrongfully detained. In May, her detention was extended another month until at least the middle of June.

A statement on the Toyota Center’s website read, “On Monday Houstonians will stand up with pride in their love of Democracy, equality, and justice; and their voices will be heard in Washington DC and all the way to where Brittney is held. We hope this rally and prayer vigil will continue to propel the Administration and the President of the United States to continue to work to secure the release of Brittney Griner and Paul Whalen.”

In a video message, the Justice Department said the US has no bigger priority than to bring Americans being wrongfully held against their will home.

Mayor Turner also proclaimed Monday, June 6, Brittney Griner Day in Houston.

Griner is scheduled to go to trial in Russia later this month.

About the Authors:

A graduate of the University of Houston-Downtown, Ana moved to H-Town from sunny southern California in 2015. In 2020, she joined the KPRC 2 digital team as an intern. Ana is a self-proclaimed coffee connoisseur, a catmom of 2, and an aquarium enthusiast. In her spare time, she's an avid video gamer and loves to travel.

Moriah Ballard joined the KPRC 2 digital team in the fall of 2021. Prior to becoming a digital content producer in Southeast Texas and a Houstonian, Moriah was an award-winning radio host in her hometown of Lorain, Ohio and previously worked as a producer/content creator in Cleveland. Her faith, family, and community are her top passions.