Supporters call for WNBA star Brittney Griner’s release at Houston rally outside the Toyota Center

The Houston native has been detained in Russia for nearly four months.

Lucio Vasquez / Houston Public Media
The Booker T. Washington High School band plays outside the Toyota Center during a rally on June 6, 2022 demanding WNBA player Brittney Griner be freed from Russian captivity.

Supporters of WNBA star Brittney Griner rallied outside the Toyota Center in downtown Houston Monday night to demand her release from captivity after being detained in Russia for nearly four months.

Griner — a two-time Olympic gold medalist and Houston native — was arrested in February at a Moscow airport after authorities say they found vape cartridges containing oil derived from cannabis in her luggage. The drug charges carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

Last month, Griner’s pre-trial detention was extended by an additional month. However, her lawyer said that he believed the extension meant the case would soon go to trial.

Among those in the crowd Monday was Shannon Glenn, who said she felt inspired to help spread the word about Griner’s situation in an effort to bring her home.

“I think the more coverage this gets, the more it can spread,” she said. “It could become a force of change and hopefully this administration can do what they need to get her home.”

The Biden Administration has declared Griner “wrongfully detained” — shifting responsibility for her case to the Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs.

In a video played during Monday’s rally, department head Roger Carstens said the U.S. government was committed to securing Griner’s freedom, as well as the freedom of Paul Whelan, who was arrested in Moscow on espionage charges in 2018.

Lucio Vasquez / Houston Public Media
A member of the Texas Organizing Project holds a sign at a rally on June 6, 2022 demanding WNBA player Brittney Griner be freed from Russian captivity.

In April, U.S. Marine veteran Trevor Reed was released in a prisoner swap after having been detained in Russia for nearly three years.

Reed, joined by his two parents, spoke to the crowd during Monday’s rally. He detailed the conditions he faced while detained in Russia, which he said led to multiple medical issues. He added that he believed both Griner and Whelan were likely experiencing similar — if not, worse — circumstances.

“There is no justice in Russia,” he said. “They will not receive a fair investigation. They will be there as hostages until the United States gets them out."

Local and state officials were in attendance, including U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, who said Griner represented the city of Houston “extremely well,” and declared June 6 “Brittney Griner Day.”

Jackson Lee, who organized Monday’s rally, said another prisoner swap was needed in order to get Griner back into the U.S.

"We are not going to back down, because we want Brittney to come home," she said. "She’s a hostage that needs to be released right now."

As the sky darkened, the rally concluded in prayer and gospel music, with the crowd chanting and singing in unison.

“Brittney come home, Brittney come home, Brittney come home,” they sang.

Lucio Vasquez / Houston Public Media
The crowd sings along to a Gospel group during a rally on June 6, 2022 demanding WNBA player Brittney Griner be freed from Russian captivity.
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