(Editor’s note: Headline and article updated to reflect that Adams was recently released from his UFC contract)
UFC veteran Juan Adams wrote the following piece because people were asking him for his thoughts on the issue of racial injustice. He felt that many of his ally friends were looking to him to be a liaison or spokesperson between themselves and people of colour. He ultimately decided that with his platform, he wanted to do something positive and possibly create another dialogue around an important subject. Bloody Elbow is honored to be able to share his thoughts for more people to read during this time.
As a black man with a fledgling following online, I feel compelled to write about the current civilian activity related to the killings of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery. Like you, I’m a human being who is capable of feeling a complete range of emotions. Despite my platform as a professional athlete, I suspect that the totality of my thoughts cannot be understood in the eight-plus minutes it may take you to read this post, which is ironically the same amount of time a Minneapolis police officer kept his knee on the right side of George’s neck — resulting in his murder.
First, if it isn’t obvious, let me state this for the record — I hesitate to speak for an entire race. Every individual has unique experiences that frame their thinking, actions, and ultimately who they are. I can speak only from my experience and express only what I think and feel about these incidents. As well as the bigger institutional and social/cultural problems I think have given rise to these tragically unnecessary deaths and a lot of what led up to them.
George Floyd, while born in Fayetteville, N.C., was raised in the same neighbourhood as I was in Houston, Texas. For my part, I was blessed with different educational opportunities than most from that neighbourhood, but I’ve still experienced racial profiling and had unnecessary encounters with law enforcement. I was viewed as an ‘adult level threat’ since I was 12 years old — and as soon as I reached a certain size, my mother and grandmother had the talk with me that’s too common among black youth. The one about how to conduct myself should I ever have an encounter with law enforcement. I always chalked it up to “that’s just the way it is,” and yet I always knew it shouldn’t be that way.
I believe that the late-May wave of protests, along with the sideshow episodes of looting and property destruction, are a collective expression of the same way I sometimes feel. Resulting from a culmination of years of black lives, and the lives of other minorities, being institutionally marginalized and people of colour often treated as less than human. For example, being handcuffed and held face-down on pavement because an officer thinks you could be bringing drugs to a renaissance festival. Or, being accused of having weed in your car when a friend’s alarm goes off at their house and you don’t know their code. Or, when a police officer has their hand on their gun when they approach you to talk about a reported disturbance at your place of employment, when no such disturbance even existed in the first place.
The protests and the acts of theft and destruction surrounding them are, in my view, an eruption of emotion after years, decades, and centuries of being told and shown that “you don’t matter.” While I know my life matters — no more or less than another — when we say “Black Lives Matter,” it’s because the larger world we live in seems to constantly tell us, through policy making and policing, that our lives really don’t matter.
Looking back in history, we can see violent revolution and war have — for both better and worse — shaped the world. It was a revolution and several wars that created the United States of America. It was a civil war that freed slaves. Many people are now looking at the current situation and thinking both peaceful and violent revolution are the only solutions. They weren’t heard with kneeling; they weren’t heard with marching; so, now some folks feel the need to disrupt at a whole new level. Many likely feel that when the system in power is failing of all those it’s meant to serve, that system needs to be drastically changed or replaced.
I understand that way of thinking and feeling, and in many ways, I feel the same way — but I am also torn by the discriminate and indiscriminate violence, vandalism, and theft characteristic of protests. By nature, the current wave of activity is discriminatory in that it identifies an entire group (all police or everyone in the majority of the population) as being at fault and seeks retribution from all members of those groups regardless of their participation in the injustices.
The looting and destruction to private and public property are also indiscriminate in that they damage businesses, neighbourhoods, and public institutions regardless of the benefits they may offer. I have watched and read reports of white-owned, black-owned, Asian-owned, and Hispanic-owned businesses damaged by those participating in some activities, in select cities, over the past weekend. Perhaps worst of all, bad people and uniformed actors widen the racial divide and take the focus off the deaths of Arbery and Floyd, and the underlying issues that need to be resolved.
We need to realize that we are fighting this battle on three fronts — the social/cultural, institution, and individual levels — and our approach must be very different at each level.
At the individual level, we need to bring the perpetrators to justice. Anyone of any colour with any sense who has watched the videos of the killings of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd know that the perpetrators committed murder or, at the very least, manslaughter, and should have been immediately arrested and charged. Also, anyone of any colour with any sense who watched television footage of looters in cities and towns across the nation must know that those individuals need to similarly be found and charged for their crimes. Our best weapon in this war has been video. Having police officers equipped with body cameras and making the videos publicly accessible may help reduce racial profiling and other injustices and help identify law enforcement officers who need to be disciplined, fired, or charged for any crimes they commit on the job. We also should be prepared to protest when necessary, because authorities often fail to act until significant pressure is applied, as in both of the recent cases of Arbery and Floyd.
As a related aside, if you haven’t downloaded the ACLU app yet, consider doing so. When you record anything using the app — for example, an interaction with police, someone assaulting another person, etc. — the video is immediately uploaded to the ACLU servers and stored for immediate access and long-term use. This way, even if your phone is confiscated or broken, documentation of what you recorded remains in place.)
At the institutional level, we need to work toward improving leadership and legislation. We can expect the most significant changes when we play a bigger role in institutions, including government and law enforcement. We can also drive change through voting, protesting peacefully, and holding those in power accountable for their decisions and actions.
The bigger battle is at the social/cultural level, which is the root of bad actors and bad actions within institutions and among individuals. At this level, change comes very slowly. Solutions at this level may include electing and appointing more people of colour to leadership positions, building more inclusive work environments, integrating neighbourhoods, changing our views on “law enforcement” to more of a “guardian” mindset (as was suggested in 2015 in the Final Report of the “President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing”), and engaging in conversation across racial and ethnic groups regarding our differences, hopes, aspirations, and the injustices we consistently observe.
Integration/inclusion would be especially beneficial but is extremely difficult due to socio-economic divisions and continued resistance from many in the majority who may still view minorities as a threat to their way of life. We are seeing change at this level and we should continue our efforts in this direction, but we need to realize that changing actions requires changing minds and that this type of change is very slow to happen.
Those are just a few ideas that may be able to drive positive change, but to be honest, I have more questions than answers, more doubt than certainty. Please post a response in the comments section to let me know what you think.
Resources for the Black Lives Matter movement: