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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Former Gonzaga forward Sam Dower Jr. joins hometown protests calling for justice

June 2, 2020 Updated Tue., June 2, 2020 at 9:50 p.m.

Sam Dower Jr. spent countless days as a youngster at his grandmother’s home in Minneapolis, about three blocks from where George Floyd was killed.

“I grew up there,” said Dower, the former Gonzaga power forward. “That could have been my uncle or cousin or somebody I know that lives there.”

Floyd’s death, caused by police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly 9 minutes, has prompted protests nationwide demanding justice and an end to systematic racism. Chauvin has been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.

Dower sees the pain, frustration and outrage in his hometown.

He feels it.

He’s experienced it firsthand.

What Dower hasn’t seen is what he wants the most: substantive change.

“It never stops happening,” he said. “It happened before my parents were born, my grandparents. Hundreds of years and we’re still here, nothing has really changed. Why?”

Dower twice has been placed in handcuffs, once as a youth playing outside with friends in his neighborhood. He’s been pulled over numerous times, once when officers questioned if he really owned the car he was driving.

On a walk home from Walmart, Dower was surrounded and tossed to the ground by officers claiming he fit the profile of a suspect in an area stabbing.

“I said, ‘What was the profile?’ They said, ‘He was black,’ ” Dower recalled. “My personal experiences, I keep to myself unless somebody asks, but now people do need to hear it and whoever reaches out, I have no problem telling what I’ve been through and let them walk in my shoes.”

Dower, who played at Gonzaga from 2011-14 and professionally overseas before three knee operations in a 2 1/2-year span, said there was one incident during his time in Spokane.

“I was racially profiled in front of other white people,” he said. “I was the only one mistreated in a car full of people. That was the only time. That was handled. I know if it’s happening to me, it’s happening to millions of others, too, and their stories aren’t being heard.”

Dower has attended two peaceful protests, which he said vastly outnumber the images of agitators setting fires, looting businesses and damaging police cars. He described the atmosphere as calm and both afternoon demonstrations had strong leadership.

An exception came Sunday, when Dower was among 5,000 protesters on the I-35 bridge when a semi-truck came speeding into the crowd. Protesters scattered quickly, avoiding serious injury.

“There were other cars, but they stayed on the right side and they were honking and supporting us, and then they got off the highway until you see this huge semi coming in at 70 (mph),” Dower said. “That caused chaos, because people didn’t know where to go on the bridge.”

Dower compared the past nine days to something out of a movie scene, but the sobering reality is it unfolded in areas of his hometown “I’ve lived in and walked in.” The Osseo High School product lives in Brooklyn Park, 15 minutes north of downtown.

“It’s depressing to see the city in shambles, seeing buildings burned down from the aftermath of riots,” said Dower, an account manager at The Bernard Group. “What makes it worse is we aren’t the ones messing up the community. It’s other people coming here and busting out windows.

“I don’t condone the rioting and looting, but we wouldn’t be here if Floyd didn’t get intentionally murdered by that policeman. The world wouldn’t be on fire if that didn’t happen.”

Voting at the local, state and national level is one way to bring about change, Dower said.

“It’s great to be part of something, a great cause fighting for justice, and not just for my people, but for humanity,” he said. “A lot of people don’t know what has happened (in the past) or how black people are treated.

“It doesn’t matter how much money you have or where you live, you’re going to be treated differently. It’s sad that that’s the reality. We need to find a way to fix that.”

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