Mike Norton: Disproportionate Police Brutality Against Blacks is a Myth
Mike Norton is a successful marketing consultant and digital nomad who travels the world and currently resides in the South of Spain. He has lived in communities of various ethnic compositions in the US and around the world, and has had interactions with people, police, and government officials in his travels. He is also Black.
Policing in Other Countries
Every country is unique, and the police force in any given location has a different set of rules. While the primary goals appear to be crime reduction, peace and stability, what these terms mean and how they are interpreted by different cultures can vary widely. According to Mike, the Chinese experience is particularly interesting. In China there are many different kinds of police. There is the more conventional civilian police force run by the Ministry of Public Security, and another is the People’s Armed Police (PAP). They are somewhat analogous to the Department of Homeland Security, except they are much larger, carry more weapons, and are more active. Some people consider the PAP to be a second army.
Norton was swept up in the Diaoyu Dao Riots in China. He did not participate in the riots but gained first-hand experience witnessing policing in China when the dispute turned violent.
Day to day in China you have the regular police and what he calls the Chengguan Shadow Police Little is known about the Chengguan other than that they are hired by local officials when extra police are needed. They constitute a quasi paramilitary arm and are hired on an as-needed basis. According to Norton, locals are afraid of the Chengguan, and there are rampant rumors of abuse and violence.
Living in China requires a more complex relationship with law enforcement, but Norton believes that even under such an oppressive system it is possible to live and act with a minimum of interference by avoiding criminal behavior and not intentionally provoking the authorities. He acknowledges that his experiences are anecdotal in nature and should not be considered representative of the experiences of others.
Police in the United States and the Black Experience
Many people in the United States believe black Americans are disproportionately arrested, incarcerated, and even killed by police, and organizations like Black Lives Matter (among others) believe race is the primary motivation for these differences.
Some people believe that the solution to police brutality is to demilitarize local branches of law enforcement and to increase the use of body cameras, but others do not think these solutions go far enough.
Norton believes the opposite to be true. He says, “The problem with police brutality is a multifaceted equation … I don’t have problems with the police; some of the people who comment on my Facebook page are police. In fact, I got Top Secret security clearance from the FBI as a veteran when I was 19, myself. And, for some magical reason, even after having left the military…I’ve just not had any problems with them in any country I’ve traveled to.”
The problem with police brutality is a multifaceted equation.Mike Norton
Norton sees the problem to be a cultural issue, particularly among African American communities that mistrust law enforcement and other ethnic groups. When people see a video of a black person being shot by police, there is often an immediate emotional reaction to act out against the police in defense of the person being harmed. Norton believes we need to set our emotions aside and examine the facts of each individual case. In his view, escalated violence is often a direct result of the behavior of the person being arrested.
The Role of Critical Thinking in Public Policy
Norton says critical thinking is vital to the interpretation of violence, and should be driven by two primary questions:
- What was the person doing (if anything) to catalyze the event?
- What are the relevant laws and codes of conduct for the police officer?
According to Norton, general statistics associated with arrests and police violence against specific ethnic groups do not tell the whole story, and have limited relevance to individual cases. He believes that statistics cited in public media are often distorted or misleading. With no simple answer to this question, Norton would prefer a careful and studied approach to each individual case, as opposed to a rush to judgment or the imposition of sweeping legislation.
The best way to improve the relationship between the black community and the police, according to Norton, is to lead by example. He hasn’t experienced unfair treatment by the police because he does not commit crimes, and he treats officers with dignity and respect when interacting with them. His experience has been that when you cooperate and treat others with respect, they are more likely to treat you with respect in return, and this has even worked for him in authoritarian places like China.
Norton does acknowledge that there are instances when police officers abuse their power, allow racism to motivate their behavior, and act in other criminal ways. But he does not believe the popular narrative that black people are disproportionately abused. He believes that the statistics show that black people collectively commit more crimes and as a result have more encounters with the police. He also believes that an individual’s education, intelligence, and culture play a role in criminality and its outcomes.
The Role of Respect in Escalation and Reciprocity
Additionally, Norton suggests that many non-offenders act and dress in ways that draw needless attention from the police, particularly in the Black community. Furthermore, he states that these individuals are likely to lose control of their emotions during confrontations with the police due to cultural mistrust, leading to the use of force more often than would otherwise be expected.
Norton believes the problem transcends race and suggests that when people treat each other with respect and dignity, most of the complaints against the police would “vanish overnight.” By extension, the resulting decrease in the use of force during arrests would facilitate the identification of bad actors in the police force.
But that is not to say the police are without blame. The root of the problem on the side of the police force lies in the rules that govern them. Norton does suggest that police should enable the maximum freedom of the citizenry rather than the whim of the officer, and our current laws and regulations need to be re-examined with a critical eye to this end.
Citizens are not government officials, and while some people suggest that we should treat the police with respect, we are under no obligation to do so. The police officer, on the other hand, has a duty as a public servant to remain respectful and professional at all times.
Freedom, Empowerment, and Personal Responsibility
Norton believes freedom and responsibility go hand in hand. Legal restrictions in all jurisdictions should be reviewed and adjusted to empower individuals as much as possible, but when a violent encounter occurs it is wrong to immediately assume that the police are in the wrong.
Norton does not have any “magic bullets” to improve relations between officers and civilians. He believes that the most meaningful solutions require hard work and personal investment. He leads by example and recommends that others do the same, thereby cultivating respect between civilians and officers to reduce bad outcomes.
To learn more about his opinion on how to address the concept of disproportionate police brutality against African Americans, watch the full interview with Mike Norton.