Pence, Ivanka Trump and Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia stood by on the city's north side as owner Flora Westbrooks, near tears, pointed at what remained of Flora's Hair Design.
“I never thought this would happen," Westbrooks said. "Not to me."
“We’re with you,” Pence told her.
Pence and President Donald Trump’s eldest daughter later went to a listening session with a “Cops for Trump” group and business owners. Trump has been campaigning on a law-and-order message for weeks and is eager to put Minnesota in play four years after he narrowly lost the state to Hillary Clinton.
“I want to be clear: There’s no excuse for what happened to George Floyd, and justice will be served,” Pence told the crowd at an airport hotel. “But there’s also no excuse for the rioting and looting and violence that ensued. And those who engaged in acts like these will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”
Floyd died May 25 after a white police officer pressed his knee into the handcuffed Black man’s neck during an arrest captured on bystander video. His death set off protests around the world, including some that became violent. Property damage in Minneapolis alone is estimated at roughly $100 million.
After Floyd’s death, a majority of Minneapolis City Council members pledged to abolish the police department and replace it with a new agency that would take a more socially minded approach. Their hopes of taking the idea to voters in November was blocked by a city commission and won’t happen before 2021, if ever.
The talk of abolishing police came as Minneapolis saw spiking violent crime, as many other big cities did, and also as some residents complained that police response times had slowed. Morale in the department has been down, and dozens of officers have retired or are seeking disability leave.
“We are expected to be the handyman that fixes everything, and it’s not possible,” Matthew Hagan, a Hennepin County sheriff's deputy and president of the Minnesota chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police, told Pence.
Pence said men and women in law enforcement deserve respect every day, and if people want better-trained officers, they need more funding.
“We’re not going to defund the police — not now, not ever," Pence said. "The American people want us to stand by law enforcement and stand by our African American neighbors and all of our neighbors who’ve been impacted by the violence in our cities.”
Matt Seyko Thao, a 30-year-old from West St. Paul, said he thinks the Trump campaign is using law-and-order messaging to court those who were unsure about calls to defund the police earlier this summer.
“He’s here to give relief to the people who go support the police, people who say ‘what happens if the police are gotten rid of,’” he said. “It’s all a political ploy ... and he’s here for the wrong reasons.”
Pence's visit to the city where Floyd died prompted Minneapolis leaders to ask Gov. Tim Walz to activate the National Guard as a precaution. The governor's office said 100 guard members were made ready out of what Walz called “an abundance of caution.”
The Trump campaign’s visit came a day after several hundred demonstrators rallied at the state Capitol in St. Paul before marching onto an interstate to protest a Kentucky grand jury's decision not to bring homicide charges against Louisville police officers who fatally shot Breonna Taylor, who was Black and unarmed.
Kate Bedingfield, deputy campaign manager for Joe Biden, said in a statement: “Nothing Vice President Pence says today will distract voters from the truth: four years of the Trump-Pence Administration’s chaos and division has made Minnesotans’ lives worse.”
Pence told business owners that he sensed their feeling of helplessness as they watched the unrest unfold in May. He said that shouldn't happen.
“It was hard to stand there and see your business burn. Everything you worked for," Westbrooks said. "I just want my business back. I just want another start.”
Ivanka Trump said the Trump administration will do what America does best “and help you and others like you rebuild, because that’s what we need to do.”
Mohamed Ibrahim contributed from Minneapolis. Ibrahim is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.