George Floyd Square to reopen after March trial

Photo by Billy Briggs

City offers jobs, healing, but no police accountability

News Analysis

After much consternation and debate, the City of Minneapolis leadership announced last week that it will retake the South Minneapolis intersection of 38th Street and Chicago, which is popularly referred to by some as George Floyd Square (GFS). At a news conference announcing the decision, the City committed to job training and funding initiatives that support healing, but it did not address the demands raised by the GFS community for police accountability.

Jeanelle Austin, a neighbor and organizer of GFS, expressed disappointment with the decision, saying that reopening the square is beside the point.

“Injustice closed the square and only justice can reopen it,” she said. She described the City’s neglect of the GFS demands for police accountability as “harm that the City has caused that they have neglected to repair.”

The announcement came after a public debate between Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and City Council President Lisa Bender had occurred weeks earlier. “Avoidable divergence among those entrusted with leading our city could compromise not only our community efforts, but the public’s trust in local government. Let’s unite and get this done,” said Frey a few weeks ago, urging the council to take responsibility for reopening the intersection.

The issue of re-opening GFS became a political hot potato, making it apparent neither the council members whose wards include the GFS, nor the mayor or council president wanted to take on the issue of reopening alone.

The City said it would reopen the intersection for traffic after the conclusion of the trial of Derek Chauvin, who is being tried for the murder of George Floyd. This was one of the demands of the GFS community. The trial is scheduled to begin on March 8.

In the press conference announcing the decision, Frey, along with City Council Member Alandro Cano and Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins, took pains to explain their reasoning as well as put forth the City’s plans for the area. While claiming GFS has been “a screen for illicit activities,” Frey was adamant about the need to reopen the intersection, asserting that it “is not an autonomous zone and will not and cannot be an autonomous zone.”

Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said that he could not continue to allow the square to be closed and insisted that “our men and women will continue to show up and respond and be the guardians of that community when they call us for help.”

In reality, many in that community and others in Minneapolis do not necessarily view Arradondo’s charges as guardians, in fact, more often than not people call the police and hope that they are not victimized or treated with disrespect as has been reported by some. Two months ago, cops accosted someone in the zone and applied the exact same knee to the neck technique that Chauvin used that ended Floyd’s life.

Frey and the councilmembers insisted that the square has to be reopened to accommodate City services like snow removal and sanitation and so police and emergency vehicles can move about unimpeded. “These measures are intended to maintain public safety as we continue to address the necessary goals for justice and healing from trauma,” said Jenkins.

Minneapolis Department of Community Planning and Economic Development (CPED) Director Andrea Brennan stepped to the podium and promised job training through Summit OIC and Project for Pride in Living, as well as summer jobs for youth through the City’s STEP-UP program. The promises are consistent with the demand for job creation put forth by the GFS community.

The City and the occupants of GFS are aware that aimlessness and joblessness among youth compound their sense of alienation and oppression and increases the possibility of more violent responses to injustices like the kind of police violence that felled Floyd.

City leaders also said they were making more than $10.5 million in funding available for initiatives that support “racial healing in the 38th & Chicago area.”

While the City paid lip service to racial justice, they did not address the fact that this particular injustice stems from Minneapolis police killing a Black man. Consequently, feelings and demands for justice were heightened—especially in the Black community—by the fact that several Black men have lost their lives to police violence over the last 30 years. Floyd’s murder was not the result of a racial killing per se; he was not murdered by the Proud Boys, the KKK, or any other right-wing White Supremacist organization. Floyd was killed by Derek Chauvin, a member of the Minneapolis Police Department, as other law enforcement looked on and refused to intervene.

. An aerial view of George Floyd Square

Sculpture allowed to remain

A community-wide survey will allow folks to choose between two plans for the location where a large fist sculpture now located directly in the intersection will be placed. One calls for it to remain where it is and the City build a round-about to accommodate it; the other calls for it to be placed closer to where Floyd was killed and near Cup Foods.

The mayor said they wanted to create a space to honor George Floyd and “to make this space an ongoing space for racial justice and healing.” Frey acknowledged that “there is a great deal of frustration and pain in the community. The way we move forward must honor that pain and frustration and must prioritize healing.”

Frey insisted that he is in contact with community members who have stressed the need for healing. While the word “healing” was mentioned several times, there was no clear indication of what was actually meant by the term.

In the Twin Cities and in most of the nation, healing from damage caused by police violence has only been temporary, as the wounds are constantly reopened. Police violence occurs repeatedly—followed by empty promises to end it—thus never allowing the social wounds caused by injustice to heal.

Demands of George Floyd Square

The community members directly involved in maintaining George Floyd Square have emphasized the need for justice and police accountability and an end to police violence. The GFS advocates had advanced 23 demands, several focusing on police accountability, including:

  • Recalling Hennepin County Attorney Michael O. Freeman
  • Reopening and providing transparency and accountability in past cases of police killings
  • Requiring law enforcement to carry personal liability insurance
  • Conducting an independent investigation of Minneapolis law enforcement by the Minnesota governor
  • Ending qualified immunity
  • Banning indemnification of law enforcement officers

While the City talks about the Square in terms of a physical space, it also represents the community’s desire for justice. By offering job training rather than job creation—economic handouts and social Band-Aids likely to benefit the grantees more than the community—they ignore the reason that the square exists.

It is the space where George Floyd was murdered by police, sparking worldwide outrage. Its continued occupation is an effort by organizers to force the City of Minneapolis to confront the problem of police violence once and for all. Job training and “healing” do not rise to the level of such reform.

“The fact that we held this space for this long is a testament to the dedication and commitment and staying power of the people who maintained it for this long,” said Drew Valle, one of the people who have been a part of the square from the beginning.

Racial justice has been called for and demanded in the wake of Floyd’s death. This requires a reckoning with the system of policing that ignored Chauvin’s previous misconduct. While most are aware that it was a White officer who killed Floyd, the primary demands have not called for his prosecution because he is White or a White vigilante, but rather because—though  a member of law enforcement—he is not above the law and should be held to the same standards as everyone else.

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