Florida Democratic Senate hopeful Val Demings wants voters to know she would never support abolishing the police. Two years ago, she praised a group of radical activists working to do just that as "thoughtful."
In a June 2020 interview with CBS, Demings voiced support for Minneapolis City Council members who pledged to "abolish the Minneapolis Police system as we know it" following the police killing of George Floyd. Demings had no doubt the council members and their activist allies would "come out with a plan" for a new policing system that would "keep Minneapolis safe but also bring the community and the police together in a much needed and long overdue way."
But days after Demings's interview, the council voted unanimously to eliminate the Minneapolis Police Department without establishing any kind of replacement. In December, the council voted to pull $8 million in police funding as part of its pledge to "transform our system of public safety." All the while, the far-left groups that demanded those changes made it clear they would not be satisfied until lawmakers abolished "jails, prisons, detention centers, [and] immigration enforcement."
Now, as Demings fights to unseat Senator Marco Rubio (R., Fla.), the Democrat is running away from her praise for the council. The position earned her praise amid the riots that followed Floyd’s death, when two-thirds of Americans supported the Black Lives Matter movement. Since then, support has plummeted to 31 percent, prompting Demings to use her status as a former cop to argue that she'd never "call abolishing the police 'thoughtful.'"
Still, many Florida law enforcement officials aren't buying Demings's turnaround. 55 state sheriffs have endorsed Rubio, and some say Demings "turned her back on law enforcement" in the wake of Floyd's death. Demings did not return a request for comment.
On June 7, 2020, days after violent riots subsided in Minneapolis, the anti-police groups Reclaim the Block and the Black Visions Collective hosted a rally in Minneapolis's Powderhorn Park. During the event, nine Minneapolis City Council members, including then-president Lisa Bender, stood behind a giant "DEFUND POLICE" sign on stage, and announced their "commitment" to "end policing as we know it."
The next day, Demings defended the council to CBS, expressing confidence in the group's ability to reimagine public safety in a "safe" and "thoughtful" way. During a CNN appearance that morning, Bender shared her hope for a "future without police." Pressed on the prospect of having no cops to call during a break-in should Minneapolis actualize that future, Bender said the concern "comes from a place of privilege," as "calling the police may mean more harm is done."
Bender's rhetoric closely resembles language in the Black Visions Collective's "Minneapolis Without Policing" resource guide, which instructs crime victims to resist "the urge to dial 911," as the police's presence "will put people at risk of being jailed, abused, or killed." The similarity is likely no coincidence—in August 2020, two months after the interview, Bender acknowledged her "long relationship" with the anti-cop group, which began its work to defund and disband police in 2017.
While the Black Visions Collective long had the ear of Bender and other council members, its radical vision for Minneapolis didn't catch fire until after Floyd's death. That event prompted the collective's members to seize on growing anti-police rhetoric, harassing city mayor Jacob Frey (D.) and his liberal counterparts on the council to answer the call to defund police. Days before the nine city council members publicly caved to the collective’s demands in Powderhorn Park, the group planted gravestones with Floyd’s name outside council members' homes.
It's unclear if Demings was familiar with the Black Visions Collective when she praised the "community leaders" working with the council to reimagine law enforcement. But the group undoubtedly led the charge to abolish police in Minneapolis, giving politicians like Bender a guide to "eliminating imprisonment, policing, and surveillance" and building "a police-free future."
"As [prison industrial complex] abolitionists, we organize to dismantle and defund these systems," the guide reads. "This looks like organizing to abolish police and all law enforcement, including ICE and the military; to stop jail/prison construction and close existing facilities; and to end racist, predictive policing practices that use zip codes to target Black and Brown neighborhoods. It also looks like not calling the police on people, ever."
Bender and the rest of the City Council advanced many of these policies after the June rally. On June 26, the council unanimously approved a proposal that would have done away with the Minneapolis Police Department in favor of a "department of community safety and violence prevention." The proposal gave the council overwhelming control over the new department. It also removed the city’s mandatory officer requirement, which meant the council did not have to hire a single cop.
Unfortunately for the Black Visions Collective, the community safety department never came to be. Minneapolis voters had a chance to approve the proposal through a November 2021 ballot measure, which came as the city experienced a surge in violent crime, including the highest number of homicides in two decades. Voters rejected the measure by a double-digit margin.
Following the vote, Bender retreated into privacy. After declining to run for reelection in November 2020, the former president announced she was "logging off for a while" and locked her Twitter account.
But for Demings, distancing herself from the summer of 2020 has proven more difficult. Rubio’s campaign has flooded airwaves with ads saying the Democrat "refused to condemn radicals." In response, Demings released her own ad, which called the idea of defunding police "just crazy."
That rhetoric is a far cry from Demings's earlier comments. She claims her "very thoughtful" comments were directed toward the City Council, not their movement to dismantle police. For former Minneapolis-area police captain David Zimmer, that defense is not a convincing one, as the council in 2020 was well known as "an activist council that had it out for its own police department and was looking for ways to take more control."
"They were pretty clear with what their intent was," said Zimmer, now a criminal justice policy fellow at the Center of the American Experiment. "They wanted to do away with the police department. And when the Floyd case came about, they felt like they had the power to do it."