Progressives and racial justice advocates are addressing speculation that Rep. Val Demings is a likely contender for presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden's running mate, saying with the nation's ongoing uprising against law enforcement abuses, it is not "the right moment" to choose a former police chief as a vice presidential candidate.
Demings, who served as an impeachment manager in President Donald Trump's trial earlier this year, has been floated for several weeks as a potential candidate, with speculation intensifying after Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) withdrew her name from consideration on Thursday night and called on Biden to choose a woman of color.
The continuing nationwide demonstrations over racial injustice and police brutality, which Klobuchar cited as a reason to elevate a woman of color to the vice presidential candidacy, are also being cited by critics of Demings as a reason to leave the Florida Democrat out of the running.
"If Biden wants to signal his solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, overwhelmingly led by the young voters he struggles so profoundly to attract, he'll have to capitulate either on policy or personnel."
—Alexander Sammon, The American Prospect
Demings was the chief of police in Orlando, Florida for four years before running for public office in 2012. Prior to her tenure at the helm of the police department, she served as an officer for 23 years.
"She's a cop," Hawk Newsome, co-founder of the Greater New York chapter of Black Lives Matter, told The Hill. "She was a top cop at an extremely brutal police department. She was a vocal supporter of brutal actions by police."
Demings ran the Orlando Police Department from 2007 to 2011. Toward the end of her tenure, an 84-year-old man sued the department after an officer broke his neck while throwing him on the ground—a use of force which Demings said was within Orlando's guidelines. Demings later ordered a review of the department's policy for using force, and a jury awarded the man $880,000 in damages.
A 2015 Orlando Sentinel investigation also examined the department's record on the use of force between 2010 and 2014, overlapping with Demings's time as police chief. Orlando officers used force twice as often as many other Florida police departments, including Tampa's, according to the report.
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While only 28% of Orlando's population is black, 55% of the use-of-force reports pertained to black residents, and seven out of the 10 people shot to death by officers over the four-year period were black. The disparities were detected even after Demings enacted an "early warning system" in which officers could be reassigned and retrained if they were "exhibiting behavior that caused us concern," as she told NPR on Friday.
"There are many people that you can talk to within the city that have their qualms with the police department that have never been solved," Jonathan Alingu, co-director of Central Florida Jobs with Justice, told NPR. "She's part of that legacy. That's something she has to answer for."
After George Floyd's killing in late May in Minneapolis and as protests spread across the U.S., Demings positioned herself as critical of the current state of policing, calling for "a serious review" of police departments.
"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" should all be reassessed, Demings wrote in a Washington Post op-ed titled, "My Fellow Brothers and Sisters In Blue, What the Hell Are You Doing?"
Though Demings is a co-sponsor of the Justice in Policing Act of 2020, which calls for a nationwide ban on chokeholds and limits to qualified immunity for police officers, The American Prospect noted that in 2018 she was also the lone Democratic co-sponsor of the Protect and Serve Act, one of dozens of "Blue Lives Matter bills" introduced in recent years. The bill would have categorized crimes against police officers as hate crimes and made "any intentional attempt to physically harm a law enforcement officer a federal crime."
The bill "immediately proved unnecessary on multiple counts anyway," wrote Alexander Sammon at The American Prospect. "'Blue lives' already matter most in the eyes of the criminal justice system; criminal penalties for violence against cops are categorically the most extreme of any class of victim... Blue Lives Matter bills are not meant to serve a criminal justice purpose, just to send a message."
"If Biden wants to signal his solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, overwhelmingly led by the young voters he struggles so profoundly to attract, he'll have to capitulate either on policy or personnel," Sammon continued. "If it's the latter, that means that former prosecutors and police chiefs will need to be cut from the VP short list."