Increasingly in the national spotlight as a potential running for former Vice President Joe Biden, U.S. Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., opened up about several topics including her childhood in Jacksonville and reforming the police in the wake of the killing of George Floyd.
The congresswoman from Orlando is on Biden’s shortlist as he looks for a VP candidate.
“He needs to select the best person that he feels moves the needle forward,” Demings told Florida Daily. She said she is ready to accept the post if asked though having a former police officer on the Democratic ticket may not be the way to go in this climate.
Demings weighed in on her background, including her time in law enforcement in which she rose to be Orlando’s police chief.
“I’ve been on both sides of this issue. As a social worker and as a law enforcement officer, I’ve enforced the laws and now I write them. Having been on the streets, seeing the vulnerabilities in the law and now having the ability to write them, I think that’s pretty good experience,” Demings said before praising peaceful protesters.
“I am very proud of the persons who are demonstrating in the street. They should be demonstrating against police misconduct,” she added.
If Biden selects Demings, she can expect tough scrutiny including a report from the Orlando Sentinel over the use of force.
Demings dismissed much of the report, noting that and she was only there for 18 months of the five year reporting period.
“About five percent of the officers were responsible for the majority of the force that was used. Most of them worked in the downtown area, one square mile where we have, at that time 11 years ago when I was there, about 80 bars,” she said. “The majority of the force occurred between 12 midnight and three in the morning so certainly they posed some unique challenges to the officers assigned to that area.”
Demings said she tried to limit “hands-on” policing whenever possible and pointed out that pepper spray was the first choice of officers when force was necessary.
“I instituted…what we call an early warning system when I was the police chief which gave us a better way of tracking officers who were possibly exhibiting behavior that caused us concern. We would pull them out of their assignments, send them to counseling if they needed it, reassign them, give them additional training,” Demings said.
Demings said she wants raises for police officers, insisting that “you get what you pay for.” Weighing on President Donald Trump’s executive order on police reform, she did compliment part of it.
“The president is certainly on the right track with a national database so we can prevent and to track officer misconduct and certainly prevent officers who may be fired from one agency, prevent them from going and being hired by another agency,” she said.
Still, she disagreed with much of the order.
“We need tangible, enforceable legislative action, codified into U.S. law. We can’t cover up these problems with a new coat of paint. The only path forward is real structural reform, including true accountability,” she said, adding that she does not think Trump’s order goes far enough.
“He’s still campaigning and not looking at the obvious problem right in front of us, what happened, what happened to George Floyd, what happened in Atlanta, Georgia, that we have got to make sure that we are number one acknowledging that systemic racism still exists, and it rears its ugly head,” Demings said.
Trump jabbed the Democrats when he signed the order.
“Obama and Biden didn’t fix this during their eight-year period because they didn’t know how,” Trump insisted.
The executive order bans most chokeholds by federal law enforcement except when that force is allowed by law–which could be a giant loophole.
“Law enforcement officers provide the essential protection that all Americans require to raise their families and lead productive lives,” the executive order reads. “The relationship between our fellow citizens and law enforcement officers is an important element in their ability to provide that protection. By working directly with their communities, law enforcement officers can help foster a safe environment where we all can prosper.”
Speaking with the media this week, Demings also discussed her childhood in Jacksonville and said there was plenty of racism in the area where she was raised.
“I was called the n-word when I was four years old, and I can remember not even really understanding what it meant because my parents did everything they could to really kind of shield us from the ugly part of the world,” she said. “But I knew it wasn’t good because when everybody started laughing and pointing at me, I knew whatever it was, it was not good.”
She also said white children threw rocks at her. Once she was old enough to understand racism, it reared its ugly head again.
“I went to a school that was very near where I lived, a predominantly white school in sixth grade and I remember I did not have a problem making friends and this one little girl, her name was Kelly. We became pretty good friends and she wanted to come over to my house and spend the night. I talked to my parents, and they said ‘Look, we have two bedrooms in our house.’ two bedrooms, seven children, but she is welcome. When she asked her mother about me coming over, her mother said ‘I’m not going to have that n at my house.’”
Demings was first elected to Congress in 2016.
Reach Mike Synan at firstname.lastname@example.org.