Controversy embroils efforts to re-open George Floyd Square

Photo by Abdi Mohamed Partially blocked George Floyd Square

In the early hours of Thursday, June 3, Minneapolis workers descended on the intersection of 38th Street and Chicago Ave. and began dismantling the barricades. The area had come to be known as George Floyd Square (GFS) and is the site of George Floyd’s murder by Derek Chauvin.

In the days following Floyd’s death, activists erected barriers along all four entrances to the intersection to create an autonomous zone and vowed not to remove them until all 24 demands of their Justice Resolution have been met by city, state, and federal leadership. For the past year the intersection has served as a memorial to Floyd and all those who have also lost their lives to police violence.

After the June 3 effort to re-open was met with opposition and homemade barricades were re-erected, the city again sent workers to reopen the area to traffic on June 8. The effort to reopen the intersection has been a point of contention between city leaders and community groups. The City, while attempting to reopen, left the large metal fist that sits in the middle of the intersection.

As news of the dismantling of George Floyd Square spread on social media, hundreds of people arrived to show their support for the square to stay untouched. Shortly afterwards, new barriers were brought in to close the intersection. In the following days, four new wooden fists were placed at all the entrances to the intersection.

City partners with Agape Movement

The City has partnered with the Agape Movement, a Minneapolis-based organization, to reopen the intersection. Members of the group were a part of the early efforts to close the streets leading to the intersection and now have a direct role in its reopening.

Agape has multiple contracts with the City, including a deal for up to $359,000 according to City spokeswoman Sarah McKenzie. The funding would cover transportation, operating costs such as wages, and safety services for reopening the streets.

Critics of city leadership see this partnership with the community group as a way for the City to distance itself from the reopening, but Agape leaders have consistently taken responsibility for these plans. “We, Agape, were the ones that approached the City and the mayor,” said the group’s co-founder Steve Floyd (no relation to George Floyd). He mentioned having spoken to city leaders for months negotiating plans for the square, including a design that would keep much of the memorial intact.

In a press conference held later on Thursday, June 3, Mayor Jacob Frey commended the group for their work. “I really want to hold up their leadership,” he said. “They came to us to partner. They came to us with a vision for community, and they came to us with a vision for how we move forward with a phased reconnection with community at the forefront.”

City council members Andrea Jenkins and Alondra Cano, whose districts border GFS, were also a part of the press conference and expressed their desire to see the intersection opened up, highlighting the importance of community engagement in planning the future of the square. Mayor Frey added that he plans to ensure that the fist statue would remain in the square and that “the location where George Floyd was murdered never has tires run over it again.”

Agape’s plan

Floyd said that his organization conducted surveys with residents and business owners in and around GFS and found 90% of respondents wanted to see the intersection safely reopened. Though he wasn’t able to provide exact figures for the survey, Floyd said an increase in violence has been a main concern expressed by many residents who live near the square. He said one neighbor told him that she had experienced multiple break-ins during the past year.

The plan for GFS, according to Floyd, includes bump-outs to protect the memorial, a roundabout around the metal fist, and stop signs to reduce speeding in the intersection. This is similar to the City’s design that was presented earlier this year after the Department of Public Works launched a survey about the reopening of GFS.

They received a total of 685 responses from people residing in the area. A majority of respondents, 41%, indicated that they would like to see the raised fist structure left in its place with a roundabout created. Another 16% said they would like to first see justice before any changes are implemented, echoing the point of community groups in the square.

Community activist and civil rights lawyer Nekima Levy Armstrong was disturbed to see city leaders using a community group to help them in their efforts to reopen the intersection. “The City has a long history of divide and conquer tactics within the Black community to advance its own agenda,” she said.

Armstrong said that reopening the square should be the least of the City’s priorities, as many issues continue to plague marginalized communities within the city including economic, housing, and police brutality. She added that the effort to retake the square by city leaders sends the wrong signal.

“It still sends the signal that the lives of Black people do not matter to city leadership in Minneapolis. What matters is business as usual, and that’s what reopening those streets represents,” said Armstrong.

CAIR-MN Executive Director Jaylani Hussein also expressed concern with how the city has gone about reopening the intersection and sees their efforts as a way of moving on from the tragedy. “George Floyd’s memorial site is a constant daily reminder to city officials and to the State that a human being was killed under their watch for nine minutes and 20 seconds,” he said.

“The easiest thing for them is to let people move on, and the way they can do that is to desecrate the location by having cars go through it. But that’s the problem. People do not want to move on.”

Hussein, who has a background in urban planning, explained that the square has naturally become a walking plaza. He believes businesses and residents could be better served if the City adopted a design that wouldn’t prioritize cars and could make the intersection an economic hub.

Local activists disagree

Much of the criticism of Agape stems from activists who have maintained the square, including Jeanelle Austin, who says the group doesn’t speak for everyone who has been a part of the zone. Austin has been a caretaker of the square for the past year and sits on the board of the George Floyd Global Memorial.

She criticized the reopening efforts for failing to take into account the demands of activists. “I’ve been absolutely consistent on this all year long that the City needs to provide restorative justice to the community before it decides to reopen the streets,” she said.

Austin said that she last spoke with Steve Floyd on May 12 about his negotiation efforts with the City, but she was blindsided by the City’s reopening efforts in cooperation with Agape. “I said to him that if we are going to have a conversation about reopening the streets then we need to do it with the entire community.”

Floyd said that he preferred to work with activists like Austin and Howard who have the community’s ear rather than gain the approval of everyone involved in the memorial. Though Floyd dismisses any claim of working against the interest of the women in the square, he admits that the group has been working with one of its members on his communication skills. Some have claimed that members of the group have hurled insults and have been aggressive.

Floyd explained that Agape’s mission is “transforming street energy into community energy” and noted that many of its members are men who were involved in gangs and are looking to change their lives for the better.

Floyd believes that the City’s approach is a pragmatic one and can lead to further gains by the community if they engage with city leaders to reopen the square. “We have a seat at the table,” Floyd said.

“Let’s go to the table and do what we’re supposed to do and negotiate. They’re not going to back down now. This is an election year. Let’s be as smart as they are.”

One Comment on “Controversy embroils efforts to re-open George Floyd Square”

  1. Thank you for this thoughtful article. It provides great information from the people maintaining the autonomous zone, activists and Agape. However, I also would like to hear from the residents who live in the houses and apartments adjacent to George Floyd square (not solely those who are actively maintaining the autonomous zone), the business owners operating adjacent to George Floyd square, and the churches located near to George Floyd square. These groups are deeply impacted personally, logistically and financially by the autonomous zone around George Floyd square. Their voices should be quoted as prominently as the voices quoted above.

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