TIME 100 Talks
June 4, 2020 7:34 PM EDT

As a former police chief, Democratic Rep. Val Demings has been watching carefully how law enforcement officers have been handling the ongoing protests across the nation, from the cops in riot gear on the ground with demonstrators to the nation’s top cop, Attorney General William Barr.

Demings, who was Orlando’s first female head of police, says that if she were still in law enforcement, she is sure she would be out among the protesters taking a knee. “I would like to see each law enforcement agency … speak out against the shameful and brutal death of George Floyd,” Demings, who is black, said as part of the TIME100 Talks. “I’m delighted to see that America’s demonstrated this is not just a black issue. This is an American issue, evident by the diversity that we’re seeing from the demonstrators.”

She talked about the importance of law enforcement officers taking the time to build community relationships, which, if done successfully, she said pays major dividends during difficult times. Among what she would like law enforcement agencies to review are hiring standards and training, including de-escalation training. “We really need to have the brightest and the best officers as trainers, because remember, they are setting the informal standard for what’s acceptable and unacceptable [at] police departments.”

Demings also sees a bigger role for the federal government in making policing reforms. She’s like to see Congress bring national groups together to come up with best practices that can be implemented nationally, and proposed an office be set up in the Department of Justice that could focus on police standards and training. She urged that inequalities be addressed not just in law enforcement, but in areas like health care, education and housing.

Demings also denounced Barr, who reportedly ordered that peaceful protesters be moved out of Lafayette Square near the White House on Monday so that President Donald Trump could have a photo op in front of a nearby church. The result was a clearing by brutal methods, including tear gas. “We [law enforcement] are not perfect, but when you … understand how important the job is and what law enforcement should mean to America, you know we’re the guardian angels who bring peace and calm to situations,” Demings said.

“For the top cop, top law enforcement official in our nation, to take the actions, to order the actions that he did against peaceful demonstrators so the President could have a photo op which resulted in nothing concrete, no message to the American people, no message that consoled the demonstrators or the families who’ve suffered loss, or even the law enforcement officers who are out there, all hands on deck, who I’m sure are suffering from fatigue and other things by now, just like the demonstrators are — The Attorney General has to do better. We all have to do better.”

Demings, who was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2016, started to gain a national profile when she was selected as a House impeachment manager. She serves on the House intelligence and judiciary committees. She has also recently been in the spotlight because she is under consideration to be presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s running mate.

She said that she trusts Biden to make the right choice for the ticket, and believes it is time for a woman to be selected for that position. Asked if she thinks she would be the best partner, she demurred.

“What I do know is that based on my upbringing, the daughter of a maid and a janitor, I surely understand what a large percentage of Americans are going through every day when they’re just struggling to make ends meet,” Demings said. “Having worked as a social worker working with broken families and broken children, I certainly understand the effects of an unjust system and how they affect families throughout this nation.”

This article is part of #TIME100Talks: Finding Hope, a special series featuring leaders across different fields encouraging action toward a better world. Want more? Sign up for access to more virtual events, including live conversations with influential newsmakers.

Write to Lissandra Villa at lissandra.villa@time.com and Molly Ball at molly.ball@time.com.

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