Former UFC fighter Juan Adams knows firsthand the frustration of being racially profiled.
A towering six-foot-five heavyweight, Adams has to cut weight to make the 265-pound division limit and while his size and stature have benefited him in his athletic pursuits, it has also made him occasionally stand out in the wrong way in day-to-day life. In an open letter originally published on his Facebook page, Adams touched upon his own experiences with racial injustice as a means of discussing the larger issue currently facing the United States as the country deals with widespread protests and riots incited by the killing of George Floyd.
“For my part, I was blessed with different educational opportunities than most from that neighborhood, but I’ve still experienced racial profiling and had unnecessary encounters with law enforcement,” Adams wrote. “I was viewed 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 youths… 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.”
Adams, who is currently signed to France’s ARES Fighting Championship, goes on to explain that he grew up in the same Houston neighborhood as Floyd. He also mentions the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery, a black man killed while jogging in Georgia by two white men this past February.
For his part, Adams condemned the more violent aspects of the ongoing protests, though he also knows where much of the sentiment behind these actions is coming from.
“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,” Adams wrote. “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, neighborhoods, 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.”
Adams, 28, suggests that the “battle” needs to be fought on three levels: individual, institutional, and social/cultural. For the individual, Adams calls for the police offers involved in Floyd’s death to be brought to justice and he encourages civilians to keep documenting examples of authorities engaging in impropriety.
At the institutional level, Adams believes there needs to be greater leadership and accountability, and improved legislation, with the responsibility also falling on citizens to vote. Culturally speaking, Adams admitted that change at that level “comes very slowly,” and he again emphasized leadership, education, and communication.
“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,” Adams wrote. “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.”