Minneapolis starts to reopen George Floyd Square, but some push back

A man stands near the memorial while speaking to a crowd.
Activist Michael Wilson calls on community members to continue to fight for racial justice at George Floyd Square after city crews removed cement barriers from the street. Minneapolis, Thursday, Jun. 3, 2021.
Tim Evans for MPR News

Updated: 10:03 p.m.

City workers on Thursday cleared barricades at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in south Minneapolis, the site transformed a year ago into an occupied protest and memorial following the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.

Mayor Jacob Frey said the work was the start of a reopening of the area, and he vowed to spend money to boost local businesses and improve the streetscape. He described it as a “phased reconnection” of the area to the city.

Some activists, however, slammed the process as an affront to Floyd’s memory.

“The fact of the matter that they try to come at 5 o’clock in the morning to try and displace us is further proof that they’re trying to marginalize us even more,” said Jay Webb, an organizer who helped build the monument in the center of the intersection.

“They call it George Floyd Square,” he added. “Look at all the other squares in the world — you walk through them.”

Chicago Avenue is accessible now to vehicles at 38th Street, but crowds continued to occupy the intersection after city crews installed new signage and partially cleared the roadway. People gathered at the scene placed impromptu barricades in place of the city concrete barriers that were removed.

‘Nothing is being taken away’

Crowds gathered early Thursday morning to watch the barricades come down, and there was at least one scuffle. The Minneapolis Police Department said this was not a police operation, and officers were not involved.

Supporters of Thursday’s actions said the barriers had become a burden in their own right on the surrounding neighborhoods and businesses, and that recent shooting deaths of two children in north Minneapolis meant it was time for attention to turn to other needs in the city. 

Steve Floyd, a member of Change Inc. and the Agape Movement, said they’d been working with the city to reopen the intersection to allow emergency vehicles through and that the intersection’s now-iconic fist monument would not be removed.

Agape Movement has a $25,000 contract with the city for compensation for things like outreach and engagement.

A Minneapolis spokesperson later told MPR News that the city has a contract running until this fall tied to the reopening of 38th and Chicago for up to $359,000. MPR News has requested a copy of the city's contract related to the reopening.

"So basically we've just opened this up so we can be safer, which is what the design is. We let them know that nothing is being taken away from here. The fist is going to be permanent, everything you see out there is going to be permanent,” said Floyd, who is not related to George Floyd.

“The only thing we need to move is the dirt around the fist so that buses and fire trucks can get through, around. But everything else stays the same."

Frey told reporters Thursday afternoon that while the city’s begun the process of reopening the intersection, “it is not and will not go back to where it was prior to May 25, 2020,” the day Floyd was killed while in police custody.

He said the city would invest in Black-owned businesses and property in the area and improve the facades of local business. “We will be putting our money where our mouth is.”

The mayor wouldn’t offer a timeline as to when the area would be completely opened.

Andrea Jenkins, the City Council vice president who represents the area around 38th and Chicago, said it was important to begin the “healing process” for businesses and residents in the area who “feel like they’re being trapped in their homes.”

The intersection “has become the soul of the nation,” Jenkins added. “It will be marked with the appropriate memorials and infrastructure to support that.”

Several Minneapolis City Council members said they weren't alerted about the reopening of the street until a couple hours after it happened. City Coordinator Mark Ruff said in an email to council members and staff that city staff earlier that morning supported a "community-led reopening."

‘We will not give up this space’

Some activists and community members expressed their frustrations with the city's moves to start reopening the square.

"This is a marathon, this right here was a battle. Some battles are meant to be lost," activist Kia Bible said. "We are reserving the energy for the ultimate war. The war is on our lives. The war is on our children's lives."

Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said that the removal of the memorial was an attack on Floyd's legacy.

“This space is a space that has now become a national memorial, a national memorial for victims of police violence all over this world,” Hussein said. “We will not give up this space. We will save it for George Floyd.”

Angela Harrelson, an aunt of George Floyd who lives in the Twin Cities, derided the changes during a visit to the site as “plantation politics. It's been going on for 400 years. I am not a slave anymore. None of you guys are slaves. We need to start treating us like individuals. We are human beings."

She said she never received notice from the city about reopening the square and called the city's actions divisive.

Frey had pledged in February to reopen the intersection following the trial of Derek Chauvin, the officer who killed Floyd as the man lay handcuffed and pinned to the ground in police custody. A jury in April convicted Chauvin on murder and manslaughter charges.

Residents and activists who served as unofficial leaders and organizers at the square, however, said they wouldn’t step aside unless the city met their demands.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Watch: Mayor Frey, city and community leaders brief reporters on changes at George Floyd Square:

Watch: Activists express their frustrations with the city's moves to begin reopening George Floyd Square:

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