"This isn't just about what's happening in Minnesota. This is about America as a nation. The nation is on fire and the President of the United States is standing there with gasoline," said Demings during a virtual event hosted by Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action. "If he wants to bring America together, then talk about what justice looks like. Talk about the persons involved needing to be held accountable."
Demings represents Florida's 10th district, which includes parts of Orlando, where she served as a law enforcement officer for more than two decades and became the first woman to become police chief. Her biography—featured on her House page—says the department reduced violent crime by more than 40 percent on her watch. But a local report in 2015 said the department allegedly paid more than $3.3 million in at least 47 lawsuits, with some of those cases alleging excessive force and other complaints against officers.
When asked where the country goes from here, Demings said the officers involved must be held accountable because "that's what justice in America is supposed to look like." But she also noted that it's critical for police officers to build trust and foster community relationships so they can effectively do their jobs and so the public can respect them. She added however, that "you cannot wait until you're in the middle of a crisis to build relationships and trust."
Demings said that police officers have to be involved in youth mentoring programs and engage in activities like sponsoring job fairs because while these actions may not directly deal with police work, Demings says "they certainly can improve the quality of life for persons in communities."
"The police is the community and the community is the police and when you have mutual respect, when you're ingrained and involved in solving problems, go to the community and hold as many town halls as you possibly can and ask their advice," Demings suggested.
The virtual event came shortly before former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin—who was recorded kneeling on Floyd's neck for minutes before he died—was arrested. Earlier Friday, Demings wrote in a Washington Post op-ed that the four officers involved in Floyd's murder should be held accountable through the criminal justice system.
"As a former woman in blue, let me begin with my brothers and sisters in blue: What in the hell are you doing?," the op-ed reads.
Demings described what it was like being one of few African-American women in the police academy during her time training, and she detailed the love she had for working the midnight shift and the power of being in a position to respond to people in need.
"When citizens were in trouble…they called really believing that when we arrived, things would get better. That they would be safe," Demings wrote. "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."
Demonstrations have erupted nationwide since Floyd's death, with protesters in Minneapolis setting fire to a police precinct.
In her op-ed Rep. Demings adds that while the officers should be held accountable, "proactive" action must also be taken to help prevent incidents like Floyd's death from occurring.
Demings suggested some of those actions include "a serious review of hiring standards and practices, diversity, training, use-of-force policies, pay and benefits." She also noted that recruit training programs are essential because "officers who train police recruits are setting the standard for what is acceptable and unacceptable on the street."