US Rep. Val Demings explains how to address racism, ‘the ghost in the room’ of America

Former OPD chief says changes needed in corporate America, law enforcement and schools

House Democratic impeachment managers Rep. Sylvia Garcia, D-Texas, second from left, and Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., third from left, arrive on the Senate side of Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Feb. 3, 2020, for the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) (Susan Walsh, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

ORLANDO, Fla. – Former Orlando Police Chief and current Democratic congresswoman Rep. Val Demings offers a unique perspective in the wake of George Floyd’s death, a black man who was killed in police custody, as a former officer of the law and now as someone who writes laws.

In an interview Wednesday with James Corden of The Late Late Show on CBS, Demings talked about what police and other law enforcement agencies can do to improve overall culture to prevent future tragedies like what happened to Floyd and others.

To start, the U.S. needs to welcome a safe discussion about race and “we can’t be too politically correct," she said, adding people need a safe space to share “their beliefs, their biases, their fears, if we’re ever really going to be able to deal with that."

The 27-year law enforcement veteran recently wrote an opinion piece for The Washington Post that addresses what she says needs to happen in law enforcement agencies to begin to heal.

“We are to represent all that is good about America but what happened to Mr. Floyd is disgraceful,” Demings told Corden, saying it starts with “hiring the brightest and the best men and women to do the job.”

The right person means someone who has compassion, she said.

“We wear the badge over our hearts as a constant reminder that you gotta be as strong as lions, but also as gentle as doves. That when you enforce the law, you got to enforce the law with compassion because remember, those are human beings, and they all belong to somebody and they’re all loved by their families," Demings said.

Training is also key, according to Demings, to allow officers to be prepared to handle all the situations they encounter. She called for better pay and benefits to attract the best candidates.

It’s essential officers have the tools they need to do the job, Demings said, not just what they carry with them but arming them with the knowledge about policies regarding use of force.

The representative said she would like to see federal policies to hold officers accountable for their actions and support local law enforcement. She is in favor of reinstating a federal law enforcement office of standards and training and making improvements to the Office of Civil Rights. All federal agencies have such civil rights’ offices to protect the civil and constitutional rights of all Americans.

“That will provide support for law enforcement agencies all over this nation,” Demings said. “So when officers do engage in questionable or misconduct, there’s a federal arm that will do much-needed investigations to hold them accountable. But we need the police and the community to get this done, just like we always have in this country.”

In the Sunshine State, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement has a Criminal Justice Standards & Training Commission, made up of police chiefs and sheriff’s across the state, “to ensure that all citizens of Florida are served by criminal justice officers who are ethical, qualified and well-trained,” according to FDLE.

Demings is married to Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings, the former Orange County sheriff. Her name has been floated as a potential vice presidential pick for Joe Biden in 2020.

At the end of the interview, Corden asked her if she would be interested. The congresswoman said she would be up for the job if asked.

“I feel a direct obligation to make sure that every boy and every girl, every man and every woman has an opportunity to succeed to have a fighting chance in this country, like I did,” Demings said. “I’ve chosen tough jobs. And if I received a call from Joe Biden, I would absolutely accept the job and accept the challenge.”

Watch the full interview on The Late Late Show here.