City workers crept up on George Floyd Square (GFS) at 4:30 am Thursday morning and began removing barricades and opening up 38th Street and Chicago Avenue for traffic. When organizers and others who have been maintaining the space as a memorial to George Floyd learned about it, they put up homemade barriers closing the streets off yet again and setting the stage for a stand-off with the City.
“George Floyd Square has become a local, national, and international place for healing, memorialization of the life of George Floyd and many others who have been killed by police, and a place of resistance against oppression, racism, and White supremacy. There is literally no other place like it in the world,” wrote Mohamed Ibrahim, deputy director of CAIR-MN in a press release denouncing the City’s efforts to shut down the memorial site.
But seemingly running interference for the City was the community organization The Agape Movement. KSTP, in its reporting on the events, led its story by noting, “The group that led the removal of barricades around George Floyd Square early Thursday morning is acting as a buffer between the City and the community through a paid partnership. The Agape Movement’s mission is to ‘bridge the gap between the community and law enforcement.’”
Steve Floyd (no relation to George Floyd) noted to KSTP’s Brandi Powell that Agape and the City want to preserve the space while also opening it up for emergency services and public transportation. “It’s not changing, not taking anything out. [It’s] keeping it as it is and making it better,” he said. “Firetrucks and buses can get around, and they’re going to make the fist permanent, as it is, and you can go put a base around it with all of the names around the fist.”
He added, “They can keep doing protests, they can keep having meetings, they can keep showing movies, they can keep decorating and painting the street. … All of these things are still there, and that’s how we envision that place looking, that we keep the same, it’s just that traffic can get through slowly.”
Agape members were confronted on Thursday by those trying to maintain The Square as is. The pushback was expected, Steve Floyd said.
But some of the pushback was precipitated by accusations that the City of Minneapolis, particularly Mayor Jacob Frey and Councilmembers Andrea Jenkins and Alandra Cano, who appeared to make Agape a scapegoat of sorts and seemingly used the organization to hide their intent to reopen the intersection.
In a statement released on Thursday morning, Frey, Cano, and Jenkins wrote, “The Agape Movement brought together community leadership to begin facilitating the phased reconnection this morning, with the City playing a supportive role. We are grateful for the partnership.”
The statement makes it appear that Agape, not the City, ordered and had the barricades removed. And there are those who asked who and what leadership was consulted before the operation to open the streets began.
Judging from a letter written by a City Public Works manager to workers removing the barricades, it is clear that the City, working with Agape, took the side of those who saw George Floyd Square as a hazard and inconvenience.
“We are there at the specific request of community members who have to live and work in this chaos. It means a lot to them that we are helping and you should feel proud you have a role in making things a little better for them,” wrote Mike Colestock, a manager in the Minneapolis Public Works Department in a letter to workers sent to take down barricades.
Colestock also wrote that the organization Agape was “going to be there to engage with people who have questions.”
His comments speak to the divide that existed between those maintaining The Square and holding it as a commemorative memorial to George Floyd, and community members and business owners who see it as a disruption and an unsafe space.
Some of those who have been working to maintain the space and keep it closed took the City’s effort to reopen personally.
Jeanelle Austin, a South Minneapolis resident and volunteer at GFS, said, “For the last 12 months, I have served as one of many volunteer caretakers of George Floyd Square. All I could do was weep when I saw how the city worked to tear down the one sacred space we have to memorialize those who have been killed by police. There are no words for the pain I feel.”
“I was traumatized by the reopening of the street at George Floyd Square,” said Angela Harrelson, George Floyd’s aunt and co-chair of the board of the George Floyd Global Memorial. “I just cried because it was traumatizing to see what has happened. No one told me or the community. But one thing I will not do even though they opened the street: I will never drive my car down the street where my nephew was killed, knowing that he had cried out for his mama.”
“George Floyd Square should be respected it is and will always be a national memorial for victims of police violence,” said Jaylani Hussein Executive Director of CAIR-MN.
Look for a full story and digital conversations about the ongoing efforts to reopen 38th & Chicago in coming days.