UFC Star Tyron Woodley Skeptical of Real Change in Hometown of Ferguson

Jeremy Botter@jeremybotterMMA Senior WriterAugust 27, 2014

MACAU - AUGUST 23:  Tyron Woodley of USA looks up after winning his welterweight fight against Dong Hyun Kim of South Korea during the UFC Fight Night at The Venetian Macao Cotai Arena on August 23, 2014 in Macau, China.  (Photo by Victor Fraile/Getty Images)
Victor Fraile/Getty Images

Tyron Woodley was on Canfield Drive just two days before Michael Brown was gunned down by police officer Darren Wilson.

"I was a one-minute walk away from where it happened," Woodley says. "It was way too close to home."

Woodley was with his three sons, getting his hair cut. He'd been down Canfield Drive many times, because Woodley is part of Ferguson, Missouri.

He grew up in Ferguson. He attended elementary, middle and high school in the Ferguson school district. He lived in one house in Ferguson for 13 years and then moved and lived in another home in Ferguson for 10 years. He went away for college but then moved right back to Ferguson.

It is a way of saying that Ferguson will always be part of his fabric. Because for some people, no matter how far you go, you always come back home. That is Woodley and Ferguson.

Woodley has spent a lifetime witnessing racial injustices in Ferguson. According to figures from the 2010 census, it is a town where 63 percent of the local population is black, but the police force features just three black officers. According to racial profiling statistics from the state of Missouri in 2013, 4,632 police stops out of 5,384 total stops were of black citizens. Of 611 total police searches, 562 were of black citizens. And of 521 total arrests in 2013, 483 were of black citizens.

The racial tensions are felt, Woodley says, by everyone in the community. Even when you don't see it in action, you hear about it.

"You always hear about it. You got pulled over for not having your seatbelt on. You got pulled over for jaywalking. You got pulled over for going two miles over the speed limit," Woodley says. "I've physically seen profiling. I've seen me walking up the street with my friends, and the police officers get out of their car and bust the hell out of my friends. And they can't do anything about it, and the cop gets back in his car and drives off.

"I've had friends who have been beaten up by police officers who put phone books in their T-shirts and then beat them up, then drive off. So these are things that are going on in the community."

Woodley went to Las Vegas for promotional work just as tensions were beginning to build on the streets of Ferguson. On the way home, his Facebook and Twitter feeds began "blowing up," he says, with news of the protests in Ferguson turning violent. Protesters had set the local QuikTrip gas station ablaze. Woodley wondered if he should go over to the gas station and see what was going on, but his wife asked him to stay home.

"The next morning, when I drove by, it looked like a landfill. There were broken windows. Trash everywhere. Food products," Woodley says. "It looked like a tornado came through and knocked out 10 miles of commercial real estate."

The buildup and aftermath of Brown's shooting did not surprise Woodley. For as long as he can remember, there have been tensions between the local community and the police force.

"Why wouldn't the police officers be on edge? Why wouldn't they be alert? And why wouldn't people in the community trust police officers? Because they are consistently harassing them, and they have experience with police officers doing awful things," Woodley says.

But Woodley still believed that what he was seeing on television and what he saw happening just outside his front door was not an accurate representation of Ferguson. He believed people were coming in from outside of the city—people who were using the riots as an opportunity to break the law with minimal worry of consequences.

"They see this as an opportunity to use the kid's death to satisfy their own flesh. To steal, to be unlawful and cause trouble," he says. "But people who live in Ferguson that did that? I am really questioning where their psyche was. Why would you want to blow up a QuikTrip around the corner? And now your neighborhood looks terrible because you blew up the QuikTrip. You busted out the windows at AutoZone and you're stealing rims? What are you going to do with one rim?"

Woodley does not expect real change in Ferguson. He says things will get worse before they get better, especially once the investigations into Brown's death are completed. Once that happens, Woodley says, things are going to get worse, one way or another.

"Somebody is going to be pissed off. Either he's going to go free, and the community will go nuts, or he's going to get locked up and all the people who are pro-Wilson, who have raised over $200,000 for him in a Go Fund Me account, they're going to blame it on the African American community being riffraff," he says.

"It is not going to end well, no matter which way it ends. I hope that people are thinking about that, and I hope they are ready to heal and to mend.

"They have to be ready."

All quotes were obtained firsthand.


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