Pence to cops in Minneapolis: “We’re with you”

By: and - September 24, 2020 10:01 pm

Flora Westbrooks (right) shares how her hair salon in north Minneapolis was burned down during the riots following the police killing of George Floyd at a “Cops for Trump” event with Vice President Mike Pence (left). Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

The vice president and President Donald Trump’s daughter came to Minneapolis Thursday with a clear message: They’re with the cops.

Vice President Mike Pence and Ivanka Trump met with “Cops for Trump” at the Minneapolis airport’s Intercontinental Hotel, filling a ballroom with law enforcement officers and their supporters, many of them in red shirts declaring support for Trump.

“We’re not gonna defund the police,” Pence said to a roar of applause. “Not now, not ever.” 

The event aimed to drum up enthusiasm for Trump’s “law-and-order” push, which Republicans hope will be a winning issue for them in November. 

Paradoxically, Trump’s own inner circle has been beset with criminal investigations and convictions, including his 2016 campaign manager Paul Manafort; deputy campaign manager Rick Gates; longtime confidant and GOP operative Roger Stone; and personal lawyer Michael Cohen. His other 2016 campaign manager and former White House strategist Steve Bannon has been charged with fraud in the case of a nonprofit organization that was set up to build a wall between Mexico and the United States. 

At the Intercontinental, stage time was given to U.S. Senate candidate Jason Lewis, U.S. House candidate Lacy Johnson and MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, who is a likely candidate for governor in 2022. 

Before the police event, Pence and Trump made an unannounced stop at the rubble of a former hair salon in north Minneapolis, one of the 1,500 or so businesses destroyed in the days after the police killing of George Floyd. 

The owner of the salon, Flora Westbrooks, then joined Pence and Trump on stage along with other business owners affected by the rioting in Minneapolis. 

“It was horrible to stand there and see your business burn,” Westbrooks said of her business of 35 years. “It’s just devastating.” 

Ivanka Trump said it was a “very emotional experience” seeing what was left of Westbrooks’ salon, and promised that the federal government would help people like Westbrooks rebuild. Her promise was belied, however, by the recent decision of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which denied an aid request. Minnesota Senate Republicans also blocked an effort to provide state aid to Twin Cities business owners affected by the riots. 

Lloyd Drilling, owner of Thurston Jewelers, also spoke about his store getting looted and damaged, and being told the police were too overwhelmed to respond. 

“Every piece of glass in the store was gone,” he said. “It was really a sobering thing to see just how if you don’t have law enforcement and if you don’t have control like that people go just literally crazy with chaos and lawlessness and after witnessing that you realize there really is a thin blue line and we really do need not less cops, more cops.” 

He blamed indecisive leadership by the mayor, City Council and governor.

“They let this thing roll on for like three days before really calling in the National Guard and trying to put a stop to it,” he said. 

Pence said there’s no excuse for what happened to Floyd and justice would be served, which drew applause. He added that there’s also no excuse for the rioting and looting and violence that ensued. “President Trump and I will always stand by the right of Americans to peaceful protest, but rioting and looting is not peaceful protests . . . Burning buildings is not free speech.”

Pence said the administration has deployed law enforcement to 29 states, charged 300 rioters and arrested over 2,500 “violent criminals.” 

“We are going to have law and order in every city in every state in this country for every American of every race and creed and color so help us God,” Pence said. “Which is quite a contrast from the other side.” 

Pence falsely claimed that Democratic nominee Joe Biden has called for defunding the police. 

Pence said it was “remarkable” that the Minneapolis City Council voted to defund the police department. (The council appeared at a rally in June and vowed to “begin the process of dismantling the Minneapolis Police Department,” but they have not actually done so.) 

Pence said it’s no surprise that 65 officers had left the force of 850 by the end of July, which is about how many leave in a typical year. More than 150 officers have applied for disability due to post-traumatic stress.

The Trump administration will put more funding toward training and resources, he said. 

“We don’t need to choose between supporting law enforcement and supporting our African American neighbors,” Pence said. 

Minneapolis Police Federation President Bob Kroll shakes hands with supporters at a “Cops for Trump” listening session in Bloomington. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

Matthew Hagan, president of the Minnesota Fraternal Order of Police and a Hennepin County Sheriff’s deputy for almost 21 years, said he’s never seen police morale so bad. Defunding police or cutting budgets will mean less training, he said. 

“We are expected to be a handyman who fixes everything, and it’s not possible,” he said.

Those who support restructuring public safety would agree with that, and some advocate offloading some of those responsibilities to other government workers. 

Hagen said the lack of support from elected officials is undercutting officers.

“It makes it very tough to come in and do your job every day when you know you don’t have the support,” he said. “I’m hearing a lot of my friends in Minneapolis and other cities, they don’t even want to go to work anymore. They said they get sick to their stomach before they have to go into work because they know there’s no support there.”

Ahead of Pence’s visit, Minnesota Democrats said Republicans are seeking to distract the country from what both sides agree is a more favorable issue for Democrats — the Trump administration’s failure to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Very few of the Trump supporters wore masks at the event, despite the statewide mask mandate issued by Gov. Tim Walz. Universal masking is designed to protect Minnesotans from infection, especially at large events. 

More than 200,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus, including Attorney General Keith Ellison’s mother, U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar’s father, and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan’s brother. 

“The government could have done something about it. It simply didn’t have to be this way. And the truth is, it has to do with who we choose to lead our country, and our state, and our cities,” Ellison said. 

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Deena Winter
Deena Winter

Deena Winter has covered local and state government in four states over the past three decades, with stints at the Bismarck Tribune in North Dakota, as a correspondent for the Denver Post, city hall reporter in Lincoln, Nebraska, and regional editor for Southwest News in the western Minneapolis suburbs. Before joining the staff of the Reformer in 2021 she was a contributor to the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. She and her husband have a daughter, son, and very grand child. In her spare time, she likes to play tennis, jog, garden and attempt to check out all the best restaurants in the metro area.

Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak

Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Most recently he was an associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio after a stint at NPR. He also co-founded the Behavioral Scientist and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.