For over a year and a half, a former American football player has been stuck in a Chinese prison for defending himself from attackers.
Wendell Brown was coaching for a Chinese American football team, the Chongqing Dockers. He was also working as a fitness instructor and teaching Chinese youth American football. As one friend described him, “Everything he did was about helping the Chinese community around him.”
On Sept 24th, 2016, Brown joined some of his Chinese friends for a birthday party, in the upscale part of town, at a bar called, True Colors. This is where, in less than one minute, he would be pushed into a scuffle, forced to defend himself against flying bottles and two combative men. By the next morning, he would be in a Chinese prison not knowing when he’d get to return home or see his 10-year old son again.
Unfortunately, this sort of thing is not an isolated occurrence. Other expats have been thrust into similar situations, defending themselves not understanding the language, culture, and law. Sometimes these are the result of a simple misunderstanding or an even darker reason, one of extortion or racial discrimination. For the unfortunate victim, these incidents are life-changing and can lead to huge bills and long prison sentences. For the families back at home, a long, frightening, helpless journey begins.
In Detroit, Antoinette Brown, Wendell’s mother, almost fainted when she got the phone call that her son was in prison and it might cost more than $150,000 to get him released. Wendell's attacker claimed to be the victim, saying his eye was injured and wanted $150k not to press charges. Wendell didn't pay and went to prison to await his trail. As Antoinette explains, “Not in my wildest dreams could I have imagined this could happen. My son, in Chinese prison?” She explains it’s a helpless feeling and while many people have come together to try to help Wendell, our own government hasn’t done anything yet to help gain his freedom.
This March, Wendell’s large, tight-knit family made a trip to Washington D.C., to talk with several representatives, including the State Department. They came up empty as all three meetings were canceled shortly before they were scheduled to take place. They were left to only demonstrate outside the Chinese Embassy talking with no one of influence.
Matt Liston was with Wendell’s family when their meetings were simply push aside by the government. Sensing the ticking clock, Liston is working feverishly with a team of people, from the U.S. and China, to help come to the aid Wendell Brown. As Liston put it, “Unlike the UCLA basketball players who shoplifted, no high-profile university or president is coming to rescue Wendell…it’s up to us.” If Wendell is found guilty he could face 10 years in prison, meaning his grade school aged son, will be off to college, by the time he is a free man.
In July of 2017, Wendell’s case went to trial. The odds were against him with the courts having a staggering 99% conviction rate. Many things went against him at the trial including the surveillance footage of the event was only shown once. The whole incident happened quickly and multiple views of the footage would have proved Wendell Brown was the victim and only defended himself.
Despite the setbacks, many at the trail said Wendell Brown was clearly proven innocent. The case took place in July and the verdict, decided by one judge, still hasn’t been given. The courts having such a high conviction rate lead some to speculate anything that disrupts its judicial system, like an innocent verdict, is a problem. As recently as this March, the judge still has given no timetable for a verdict.
Today, Wendell Brown sits in the Chong Qing Jiang Bei prison. While its rough inside he reads his Bible and teaches other prisoners cross-fit. Brown has proven to be a popular resident and guards even presented him with a birthday cake this past December. Once a month, the consulate and Wendell's attorneys meet with him, giving him the opportunity to read and exchange letters with his family, including his mother and now 11-year old son.
Now its up to us to help bring attention to Wendell's situation and ask our goverment officials to help bring him home. One way to create awareness is by using social media both here and in China. Today, we are asking you print the image above and take a photo of you with it and post it to social media with the hashtag #BringHomeWendellBrown. This will be used in a video that will be created for officials in China to see that Americans want this innocent man brought home.