New year, new George Floyd Square?

H. Jiahong Pan/MSR News George Floyd Square caretakers pose for a group photograph shortly after decorating the memorial with ice lanterns.

On New Year’s Eve, a U.S. Postal Service van stopped in front of someone blocking traffic to keep people safe as they placed ice lanterns on structures that grace George Floyd Square in South Minneapolis. 

“Why can’t you go around?” the person guarding traffic asked. 

“Why can’t you move over three steps?” the driver retorted. 

Such is the tension around 38th and Chicago, which became a memorial to George Floyd shortly after Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds, murdering him. Floyd’s murder resulted in days of unrest, as well as protesters and journalists losing eyes to rubber bullets and other projectiles and buildings and businesses destroyed. 

Some people want the entire memorial demolished and everything to go back to the way it was prior to Floyd’s murder. Others want 38th and Chicago to continue paying homage to Floyd but have different ways to go about it. Meanwhile, the City has its own plans to rebuild its intersection, and even though it worked with residents for months to craft them, not all community members support the City’s decisions. 

Before Floyd was murdered, the Southside intersection of 38th and Chicago was known as a place where people could get gasoline for their vehicles, food at a restaurant or corner store, or see people from the nearby Worldwide Outreach For Christ displaying signs to passersby. 

Since then, not only has the intersection become a growing memorial for Floyd, visited annually by thousands of people worldwide in the search for racial justice. It’s also been used as a focal point for protests and community celebrations, including an annual candlelight festival held close to New Year’s Eve. 

The area also plays an important role in providing mutual aid such as heated shelter, medical care, and clothing to those who need it. Jenny, who declined to provide a last name, is one of many community members who tend to the People’s Closet, which invites people to peruse, take, and drop off clothing inside one of two Metro Transit bus shelters located on the south side of the Peopleway. 

“I bring out winter coats every winter and bring out summer stuff every summer and people—even when I was walking here today—a community member was taking care of it, cleaning it up, taking stuff and putting it away. They donate to it, they take from it, and it’s very important to them to maintain it themselves,” Jenny said.

Shortly after Floyd’s murder, the Minneapolis City Council voted to rename Chicago Avenue between 37th and 39th Streets after him. Meanwhile, community members at George Floyd Square authored a resolution containing 24 demands the City, Hennepin County, and the State of Minnesota need to meet before they would consent to reopening the intersection to traffic. 

The City responded and has met two of the demands thus far—to provide a space for the Agape Movement in the Square and to provide facade grants to buildings surrounding the intersection. A third demand—the recall of Mike Freeman—is moot because he retired this week.

The City also says some of the demands require action from the state legislature. (More information on the 24 demands will be provided in upcoming issues of the MSR.) 

The City also designated 38th Street as one of seven cultural corridors in the city where the City prioritizes public transit and equitable housing investment, as well as uplifting the cultural identities of current residents to prevent displacement. The City also began to provide “enhanced city services” to the area around 38th and Chicago ahead of Chauvin’s trial in February 2021, which included brighter lighting, traffic calming devices and increased waste pickup. 

Months after Floyd was murdered, the City also prepared to reopen the intersection to traffic by distributing a survey to nearby residents addressing two potential options, citing winter conditions. Half of the respondents to the survey addressing the intersection’s reopening did not support either option, with the majority in this camp wanting the intersection to remain closed to traffic until the 24 demands were met. Nonetheless, City crews proceeded anyway, reopening the intersection to traffic on the morning of June 3, 2021.

Photo by H. Jiahong Pan A Metro Transit D Line bus stops in front of one of four fists that demark George Floyd Square.

In spite of this, Metro Transit does not have plans to restore bus service through 38th and Chicago anytime soon. Since Floyd was murdered, Route 5—and the D Line, which opened in December—have been detouring using Park and Portland Avenues. The 23 has been operating on 42nd Street between Park, Portland, and Bloomington. 

Although Metro Transit driver Stacey Burns prefers 38th and Chicago be reopened to traffic, he says the reopening needs to take time. “We [drivers] would like it so then we could drive straight through instead of zig-zag[ging around],” Burns said as he drove the first revenue D Line bus through the Southside on the first day of service. “[But] because of what happened, it’s necessary to ease back into it instead of just going to say open it up, [because] you’ll have more trouble.” 

Metro Transit may restore service after the City rebuilds 38th and Chicago. The City wants to rebuild the intersection as the pavement on both streets is nearing the end of its useful life. It has convened a committee of local community members to design the concept. 

Both agencies are also working with NEOO Partners and the Public Policy Project to coordinate a series of monthly meetings to give community members the opportunity to grill and perhaps work with government officials on redesigning George Floyd Square. 

Some neighbors differ in whether or not transit service should resume through the Square. Southside native Cynthia Ramsey doesn’t think it should. “Everyone knows who [George Floyd] is; everyone knows who killed him and how he died and where he died,” Ramsey said as she rode the D Line. “[We need a] tangible reminder of what happens when White policemen get hold of a Black person, and they start to exert a little bit more authority than they should.”

On the other hand, Jamar Patterson, also a Southside native, believes the D Line should go through George Floyd Square to support the area’s Black-owned businesses. “One of the biggest things for people in the Black community is public transportation. If you can have [the D Line] going straight through the community, you get more access to those businesses. 

“You got this bus running from the Mall of America and tourists. It’s going to run right through there,” Patterson said. 

Back at the annual candlelight vigil, which was organized by the George Floyd Global Memorial, Floyd’s aunt Angela Harrelson finds solace and comfort during her frequent visits because of the community that exists that maintains the square. She believes the square should remain as it is to tell the story of Floyd’s murder. 

“It would be damaging and cause more harm if they would tear the buildings down, like [as if] nothing [ever] happened here,” Harrelson said as she greeted participants who brought their ice lanterns. “You need that authenticity, that is what makes it real, like this did happen. Because his death changed the world.” 

Asante Simmons, who was born and raised on the South Side, thinks the City’s decision to rebuild the street could present an opportunity to make the memorial to Floyd permanent. “[The fist should be in] a real roundabout in there and actually build some little bit more grass and flowers, not just put it on top of the street, but actually build it into the street,” Simmons suggested. 

The City received feedback on how George Floyd Square should look at an open house in October. They plan to present a design for community members to review later this winter. 

Even with the plans, Jenny pledges the community that comprises George Floyd Square will persist until the 24 demands are met. “The City has a lot of plans,” Jenny said, “but do they have the moral authority to come in here and just take it?” 

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