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Local fighter organizing basketball game to promote unity, understanding

Jeff Birchfield • Jun 3, 2020 at 10:00 AM

Dustin Long wants to use the game of basketball as a tool to bring unity and understanding to the Tri-Cities community.

The local boxer and mixed martial arts fighter has contacted friends in the community and in law enforcement for an upcoming game to bring both sides together. Former Science Hill stars Shane Williams, Damon Johnson and Jaylen Allen, all of whom went on to have collegiate and professional careers, have committed to helping as have policemen Alan Stewart and Kevin Smith with the game time and location to be determined.

Kemper Johnson, who has led local protests after the death of George Floyd, is also supportive of the game. Local businesses have pledged to provide food and drinks with Long’s idea for the game to be followed with those from the black community and the police speaking to the crowd afterward.

“All of them have helped with the youth. It’s cool just to have a game whether it’s cops versus the community or if we mix it up to show how everyone gets along,” Long said. “We will have some food and afterwards we talk to the community.

“Let the cops explain how they feel when they pull someone over and when people are bad-mouthing them. Then, we will let a few kids and parents talk to let the police know the fears of their black children being viewed as a threat and maybe not making it home because of a mistaken identity, speeding ticket, a $20 debt or sale of a cigarette.”

Long, a Happy Valley High School basketball alum, is biracial with a black father and white mother. He pointed out that the most important people in his life are his family, while many of his closest friends like Dustin Walden, Adam Townsend, Jason King, Roy King, Jr. and Rodrigo Gonzalez are people of different races.

“It’s divided right now with a lot of black and white, but it’s more right versus wrong,” Long said. “The cops are paid to protect people and people shouldn’t be scared of them. There are a bunch of good cops and I’ve trained with some like Roger Antone (who) is one of the best guys I know. A lot of cops get a bad rap because of a few bad apples.

“The same way goes with the protesters. Everybody is blaming the people who are trying to have a peaceful protest for the people who are breaking into places. Those are the idiots. The majority of people want to see a change. They aren’t out there to cuss and tear down their own community.”

Long shared feelings of frustration and how he sees national media failing to report stories of people helping one another. Through the game, he hopes to convey a message of the community working toward positive change instead of people basing judgments off the actions of a few.

He’s encouraged locally to see police join in the protests, calling it a step in the right direction. For critics, Long doesn’t shy away from legal problems he’s faced, saying he’s done some good things and some bad things that are part of being human. He said the message is much bigger than him, with the game providing a format where people can listen to each other.

“To get a crowd out and let both sides talk, we can come to some type of understanding,” he said. “I was talking to my buddy, a cop who is training with me in Knoxville. He said sometimes it’s scary for him to pull over a car and there are two or three black guys in it and they’re automatically defensive.

“At the same time, I’ve been on the other side of that and that’s scary for a young black man to get pulled over and there are 4-5 cops. Both sides have to realize, ‘OK, they have a job to do. Everybody be respectful and everybody goes home.’ If someone breaks the law, you have to answer for that. If there is an injustice, there is a good way to fight it other than breaking into stores and all that.”