Rep. Val Demings, one of several women being vetted to be Joe Biden’s running mate and a former Orlando police chief, urged a nationwide review of police practices in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, whose death after he was detained by Minneapolis police has sparked protests there for the past week.
In the blistering op-ed in The Washington Post, Demings (D-Fla.), who is black, outlined her professional origins as a police officer, detailing her pride and love for the job. But she slammed police violence against men and women of color, calling their actions a “stain on our country” and asking her fellow police officers bluntly: “What the hell are you doing?”
The op-ed was published after a third consecutive day of unrest in Minneapolis, where protesters set fire to a police precinct and other local businesses. Protests in Minneapolis began to erupt on Tuesday, a day after Floyd’s death.
In her Post op-ed, Demings emphasized the outsize amount of power and responsibility police hold, writing that “when citizens were in trouble (if they had to call the police, they weren’t having a good day), they called really believing that when we arrived, things would get better.
“But we are painfully reminded that all too often, things do not get better. Matter of fact, they can get much worse — with deadly results,” she continued. “When an officer engages in stupid, heartless and reckless behavior, their actions can either take a life or change a life forever. Bad decisions can bring irrevocable harm to the profession and tear down the relationships and trust between the police and the communities they serve.”
In the video of Floyd’s confrontation with police that went viral, Floyd can be seen lying handcuffed while Officer Derek Chauvin presses his knee against Floyd’s neck. Floyd can be heard on the video pleading with the officers that he can’t breathe, while bystanders call out for help. The video captures Floyd as he eventually stops talking and moving. The 46-year-old man then was taken from the scene on a gurney and pronounced dead at a local hospital.
Chauvin and three other officers involved in Floyd's death have been fired by the Minneapolis Police Department and their actions have been condemned across the political spectrum. None of the officers yet face any charges for their roles in Floyd’s death, but the FBI has stepped in to investigate the death alongside local agencies.
Demings has seen her national profile rise over the past five months. This winter, her law enforcement credentials helped her secure a position as a House impeachment manager in the Senate trial of President Donald Trump. And last week, she announced that she was being vetted as Biden’s possible vice presidential pick.
The congresswoman argued in her op-ed that in the case of Floyd, there is “no choice but to hold the officers accountable through the criminal-justice system." But she also demanded more systemic changes to address what she described as a much deeper issue plaguing the country.
“We must conduct a serious review of hiring standards and practices, diversity, training, use-of-force policies, pay and benefits (remember, you get what you pay for), early warning programs, and recruit training programs,” she wrote.
Members of law enforcement who don’t uphold their oath to protect and serve, she said, “must go. That includes those who would stand by as they witness misconduct by a fellow officer.”
Demings concluded the op-ed by noting that "everyone wants to live in safer communities and to support law enforcement and the tough job they do every day." She described the status quo as unsustainable.
"We have got to get this one right," she wrote.
While the events of the last few days could bolster Demings’ standing as a vice presidential contender — with Biden already under immense pressure to choose a woman of color as his running mate — they could dent the stock of another rumored prospect, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
Klobuchar has faced renewed scrutiny in recent days over her record on criminal justice, concerns that she struggled to overcome during her own presidential campaign earlier this year. Black activists had warned Biden against choosing Klobuchar even before Floyd’s death prompted a fresh look at her record as the prosecutor in Hennepin County, home to Minneapolis and the largest county in Minnesota.
The senator has faced accusations in recent days that she declined to bring charges against Chauvin for his involvement in the 2006 of a stabbing suspect, though Klobuchar said Friday she had already been sworn into the Senate when that case was heard by a grand jury.
In an interview on MSNBC, Klobuchar thanked anchor Andrea Mitchell for the opportunity to “set the record straight” and expressed regret for her practice of sending cases of officer-involved shootings to a grand jury, a forum critics say tends to be more favorable to police.
But “there is institutional racism” in law enforcement, she added, arguing that prosecutors should begin" taking responsibility themselves” for reviewing cases like Floyd’s and that police hiring and training practices should be reexamined.
The senator defended her record on criminal justice while serving as Hennepin County prosecutor and in the Senate. Klobuchar rejected the notion that any of it should disqualify her from being selected as Biden’s running mate but emphasized that the decision is up to the former vice president.
“He's going to make the best decision for him, for our country, for the pandemic and the crisis we're facing to take over leadership of who's the best partner with him to come in there with the competence that he is going to show, with the compassion he's going to show, with his strong support and understanding of the African-American community,” she said. “He will make that decision. He'll decide who he's considering.”