"Go Kendra! Go! Get out!" screamed the young accomplices of four-year-old Kendra while filming her premature arrest. Their high-pitched voices echoed down the street like a siren as Kendra sat restlessly in her pink Mini Cooper, poking her pencil at the steering wheel to stay calm. "How you doin'?" said the middle-aged white police officer in a deep, mid-western accent. He caught her off guard and stuck his chest out as he glared suspiciously into her brown eyes. Kendra was silent. The only voices she could hear ringing inside of her head were of her peers across the street yelling, "Get out! Run!" And just like that, she did.
Hearts across the cyber world dropped as Kendra poked her tiny pink sneakers towards the ground beneath her, falling deep into peer pressure. As the seconds passed by, emotions began to rise. Black Americans intensely stared at their computer screens in shock. Could this be yet another viral video of police brutality against young black children? What was he going to do to her? Kendra sprinted down the sidewalk, the officer slowly trotting behind her, laughing along the way.
"As a police officer, you're kind of a rock star when it comes to kids," said Officer Tommy Norman. He began reminiscing back to two months ago when he and his group of young companions posted Kendra's 15-second getaway for the entire world to see. Kendra was so excited. She was the star in this short production and her friends were thrilled to direct it. She begged Officer Norman to re-watch the video again and again and again. This would be her debut appearance on his popular Instagram page of 110,000 followers to date. The mere idea of playfully running from a man who she sees as both a protector and a buddy would be a moment that she could never forget... Nor could he.
In June of 1998, he made a vow that would change his life forever, officially joining the North Little Rock Police Department with complete intentions of tackling the issues he hated most - racial barricades, law enforcement stereotypes, outstanding felony and misdemeanor statistics, etc. In a region where crime has landed the city at #19 of the Top 100 Most Dangerous, finding a solution was surprisingly much easier than it seemed. In fact, it was simple.
"It starts with the kids," said Officer Norman. And that was his answer. Of the riveting 62,000 civilians residing in North Little Rock, his priority was to make unbreakable alliances with the youth. He became their voice, friend, playmate and their favorite dancing partner. Yes, dancing partner. "Yesterday, I visited a group of kids and told them I had to come back. They ran inside to tell their mom," he said excitedly as if he was reliving the dance battle. He hits the Quan on the sidewalks. He does the Nae Nae in the street. He whips it like a pro. And what comes next just might his favorite part of it all: posting it live.
The trending hash tags, #StayCommitted and #CommunityPolicing, flood his timeline with remarkable encounters, all taking place throughout the metropolitan areas of North Little Rock. "Officer Norman!" he records the children screaming, fighting to see who can greet him first. When his phone is handy, they know it's time for lights, camera and action. Through social media, he's introduced the world to Lois, a tough cookie at the nearby nursing home, Riley, an adorable student who dressed up as Officer Norman's partner-in-crime for Halloween, and most memorably, Kendra.
Only seconds after he could catch his breath from Kendra's foot pursuit and click to view his recent notifications, he was stunned to find backlash. Social media - the same platform he faithfully uses to reinforce positivity - had quickly transformed this innocent interaction into a playing field for judgment and racist commentary. Facebook users criticized him with anguish, assuming the arrest was real. They couldn't quite comprehend how and why a white police officer would even begin to befriend a little black girl. Blacks online retaliated by questioning if Officer Norman was setting Kendra up for failure by encouraging to run from a police officer. To them, police brutality was becoming far too common to assume otherwise. Few even belittled his character by adding N.W.A.'s cultural protest "Fuck the Police" as a pulsing background tune.
"They don't know our story," said Officer Norman. "The relationship[s] that we hold with members of the community and most importantly, children, is at such a high level that they respect us enough to know that if it was a real-life traffic stop, they shouldn't get out and run."
Far before his role as a community hero and global public figure, he too was once a kid, ecstatic to see his favorite police officers casually riding through the diverse and fairly safe streets of the Levy neighborhood. In a modern society where social media is cracking down on justice and police brutality, Officer Norman is a bright light in a dark tunnel. People respect him... and so do other officers. Already, a female police officer on the small island of Jamaica found his page and felt inspired to get more involved in her community. A police officer in New York recently tagged him in an Instagram photo, proud to have played a part in building a playground for a low-income housing project. Officer Norman proves that to gain the trust of the community members like Kendra and her friends, it takes 110% commitment.
"We do wear the uniform, wear the badge, drive the police car but that's only a fraction of who we are. To me, the heart is more powerful than the badge. Lead with the heart, you don't lead with the badge. If you lead with the heart and go into the community with your arms open, then you're gonna' make less arrests because the people are gonna' respect it and know the police officers enough to where they think twice before breaking the law."