Will Brooks opened up about his experiences as an African-American male in the United States and his views on the ongoing issues between his community and law enforcement Monday on The MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani.
Brooks said he has a clean criminal record and has never done any jail time, but does get wary whenever he passes by a police car while driving. That was a reality for him, even before this well-publicized series of black men being shot and killed by police over the last two to three years.
"I'm an African-American man," Brooks said. "I have no record, I've never been arrested for anything serious. I have no police record, no nothing, right? But there are times where I do drive by police and I do get nervous. Not because this police officer may have caught me speeding, pulled me over and give me a speeding ticket or I have to go to court for some speeding violation. But I am nervous because I don't know if I'm getting that one police officer that is properly trained, that one police officer that is not going to get aggressive when he notices that I'm a bigger male."
Brooks, 29, said he has been pulled over multiple times, not for traffic violations, but because he said cops told him he "fit the description" of someone they were looking for. He said his wife, who is white, was pulled over once while he and his brother were in the car. Brooks said the police officer asked him and his brother for their identification, but not his wife.
The UFC lightweight said this is a constant issue he is thinking about while going about his daily life.
"Am I gonna be that one guy that ends up being a victim of an unjust and unlawful shooting and killed and not be able to make it home to my wife and make it home to my daughter?" Brooks said. "This is something I think of. This is a problem. And this is not something new. This is something I've dealt with throughout my life."
Last week, police officers shot and killed Keith Lamar Scott, a black man, in Charlotte. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department says Scott was armed when he was gunned down outside his car. A video released has been inconclusive as to whether Scott had a gun. The Sept. 20 incident has set off violent protests by the black community in Charlotte.
Just a few days earlier, Terence Crutcher, also a black man, was shot and killed outside if his car in Tulsa, Okla., on Sept. 16. He was unarmed. Tulsa police officer Betty Shelby has been charged with felony manslaughter in the shooting.
These two incidents are just the latest in a string of controversial shootings of black men by police in the United States. There have been similar protests in places like Ferguson, Mo., and some athletes, led by Colin Kaepernick, a football player for the San Francisco 49ers, have chosen not to stand for the National Anthem. The recent shootings have also given momentum to the Black Lives Matter movement.
"Right now it's just very difficult in the black community," Brooks said. "How do you find answers? We're trying to find answers. Nobody is giving answers. And then you have people who are upset, angry, getting aggressive. Desperation turns into anger, anger turns into violence, and then you have protests in Charlotte."
Police officers have also been targeted, most notably in Dallas back in July when five were shot and killed in a sniper attack.
Brooks wants to make it clear that he doesn't believe all law enforcement officers are racists or prejudiced. He said he doesn't think every African-American man in these situations is right, either.
"It's just a really upsetting and depressing thing to see what's happening in our society right now," Brooks said. "I'm just fired up and I feel like we need to start being honest about it. I'm not saying all policemen and policewomen are bad guys. I'm not saying all cops are bad. There are some cops that are making good cops look bad."
The Chicago native feels like the first step is for both sides to acknowledge fault within themselves.
"That means good cops coming out and saying that this cop was wrong, he was wrong for what he did or she was wrong for what she did," Brooks said. "Or even black people, we have to start saying, 'That black man may have done something wrong.' Does that justify him being shot? We have to recognize when it's wrong to pull the race card."
Brooks also sees tons of issues in his hometown, which he visited recently before his UFC Fight Night 96 fight with Alex Oliveira on Saturday night in Portland. Brooks, a product of American Top Team, lives and trains in Florida, but still has family in Chicago.
"In my opinion, Chicago is dying right now," Brooks said. "We're dying. We're not doing well in Chicago. The black community is not doing well in Chicago. We're killing each other, day in and day out."
Add in all the things going on between African Americans and police, the protests and finger-pointing, it's a tough time now in this country.
"When you see anything in the news that has to do with an African-American male dealing with law enforcement, regardless of he's cooperating, listening to police ... we are still being shot and killed in the street," Brooks said. "The bottom line is we're getting shot and killed. We're not getting that same treatment, we're not getting that equal justice. And it's unfortunate. Now, am I saying every single black man that is getting pulled over by police is an innocent man, that is not doing anything wrong? I'm not saying that, but at the same time there are white men that are doing bad things that are still being taken into custody and alive. When there's African American men that are doing bad things, in a heartbeat they're being shot down and killed."