Flora Westbrooks knew she was going to be on a policing panel with Vice President Mike Pence and Ivanka Trump last week, but she had no idea she was going to get personal time with them and visit her burned-out husk of a building in north Minneapolis.
Westbrooks, who owns a beauty salon on Broadway Avenue in north Minneapolis was prepared to meet Pence and Ivanka Trump after she’d been on “Fox & Friends” a few weeks prior and invited the president to visit her salon. Instead, she was invited by the president’s chief of staff early last week to serve on a “Cops for Trump” panel Thursday. But she ended up doing much more than that.
“I had no clue I’d be hanging out with the VP,” she said in an interview.
They offered to send a car for her that morning, but she declined, saying she’d drive her own. She got to the Intercontinental Hotel at the airport around 9 a.m., got a COVID-19 test and then hung out with Secret Service agents, eating lunch and waiting for the veep to arrive.
Next thing she knew, she and the agents were driving to a rest area to meet Pence.
“I had no idea at all that I was about to get on the bus with the vice president and Ivanka and her daughter,” she said. “I didn’t know that was gonna happen. All that was a surprise.”
They offered her something to drink, and she and the vice president and Ivanka Trump talked. She thought they would ride together back to the hotel, but Pence asked if they could drive by and take a look at her salon.
“I still didn’t know what was going on,” she said. “No clue.”
She said they were “so nice, very nice” and Trump was very soft-spoken and interested in her story about her salon burning during the unrest after George Floyd’s death. Westbrooks told them about how she’s gotten no assistance to rebuild her salon; instead, she got a $200,000 bill from the city for demolishing the building.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency denied a request from Gov. Tim Walz for money to help rebuild the more than 1,500 buildings burned and looted in the unrest following the police killing of George Floyd. And the Republican-controlled Senate also declined to take up a bill that passed the DFL House to assist business owners like Westbrooks.
She owns two buildings in the area, and the fire actually started in her other building where her son ran a Metro PCS phone store. She hasn’t been told about any leads in the arson, but she suspects it was white supremacists. Her buildings are about five miles from the unrest that overtook south Minneapolis, near where Floyd was killed or the fire and unrest near the Third Precinct Headquarters, which was badly burned.
Westbrooks said she’s never had any run-ins with the police, and opposes defunding them. The “bad cops,” she said, should be retrained.
“We’re going to need the police officers one way or the other,” she said. “There are some good cops and bad cops. Just get rid of the bad cops.”
She said that night her buildings burned, she felt like she didn’t have any protection, as police were overwhelmed and unable to respond.
“There was a lot of people left without protection, not just me. We need protection,” she said.
The whole experience with Pence “really blew my mind,” she said.
But she won’t say who she’s voting for in November.
Her new proximity to power, she said, won’t affect her decision. “However I cast my vote, that’s within me.”
Asked whether she likes Trump, she said “I’ve never met a person I didn’t like.”
Her second part-time job driving a school bus is also on hold while she waits for assistance, but said she’s holding her head high and trusting God will work it out.
“I’m just a survivor,” she said. “I’m not gonna sit down.”