2 years after it burned, no clear path forward for Minneapolis 3rd Precinct site

A sign reads justice for George Floyd
On the second anniversary of the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, a sign hangs from a security fence around the 3rd Precinct, set on fire during protests after Floyd's killing.
Tim Evans for MPR News

Abandoned by police and set ablaze in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, the 3rd Precinct police headquarters fell to ruins on May 28, 2020. Exactly two years later, those ruins remain a scar on the south Minneapolis landscape, with no clear idea from the city about what should happen next, or consensus from neighbors about what they want to see there.

The charred precinct building stands largely untouched, surrounded by a tall fence and barbed wire, its presence a constant reminder of the civil uprising sparked by Floyd’s killing while in police custody.

City officials declined to be interviewed about the future of the building at 3000 Minnehaha Ave. In a statement, the city said it’s being maintained and is monitored regularly, but that there was limited information to share as it examines options.

‘Some want it razed to the ground’

In the absence of official plans, neighborhood organizations closest to the precinct hosted listening sessions the past few weeks to gather resident input on what they’d like to see happen with the lot.

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“A big thing that we realized is that there has been very little discussion prior to this,” said Bennett Olupo, community organizer at the Longfellow Community Council, which put on the events. “We haven’t really heard that much from the city.”

Olupo said the neighborhood group also reached out to the Minneapolis Police Department prior to the listening sessions, asking if they had anything to share, but didn’t get a response.

“I think a lot of people feel that the police department has been hard to reach, hard to get ahold of and hear from,” he said.

More than 150 people attended the events. Many expressed disappointment at the city’s lack of action. Olupo said that Heather Johnston, the interim city coordinator, apologized for the city’s silence on the precinct’s future when she met with residents and said Minneapolis needed to do better.

The views shared at the listening sessions represent only a small fraction of the neighborhood, but the majority of participants said they do not want to see the Minneapolis Police Department back at 3000 Minnehaha.

“A lot of people there still feel trauma from what happened – seeing fire in the building, seeing the police march against the citizens of the area,” Olupo said. “Some want it to be razed to the ground and all the way gone.”

Opinions varied, though, on whether the police should have a presence in the area again. Some said they want police nearby again but in a different building. Others said they wanted community-led safety initiatives to replace the police presence in the neighborhood.

Protesters gesture after the Minneapolis police 3rd Precinct
Protesters after the Minneapolis police 3rd Precinct building was set on fire on May 28, 2020, during demonstrations over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.
Carlos Gonzalez | Star Tribune via AP 2020

A few months after the 3rd Precinct’s burning, city officials tried to establish a new headquarters half a mile north. It was halted after community leaders and the Seward Police Abolition group pushed back.

“Hundreds of people reached out to the city saying ‘No,’” said Robin Wonsley Worlobah, a Minneapolis City Council member who at the time was organizing with Seward Police Abolition.

“It was three months after the uprising, and folks were like, ‘Wait, you’re bringing the 3rd Precinct in? …Our city just burned. What are you talking about right now?’” Wonsley Worlobah recalled. 

Wonsley Worlobah, who represents Ward 2, which borders the former precinct site, wonders if the city’s hesitation on a plan for the old 3rd Precinct site is related to the strong negative reactions officials received to the reopening of George Floyd Square to vehicle traffic last summer.

Shelter, museum, memorial?

Images of the 3rd Precinct building aflame and burning through the night two years ago have become synonymous with the movement to overhaul or abolish the Minneapolis Police Department. That tension makes a final decision about the site all that more challenging.

Residents who spoke during the recent meetings offered a range of ideas on what to do with the space. Some favored a memorial or museum to remember May 28, 2020. Others suggested uses that would serve the neighborhood, like temporary shelter, a place with free food, health care, employment assistance or other social services. 

Olupo said the neighborhood group will next make a bigger effort to gather input from a wider range of community members by going out and talking with people in the area. The people who showed up to their events were majority older white homeowners.

“Oftentimes, the people who are most affected negatively by the police are the people who we have done a poor job of reaching out to and hearing from.”

The City Council recently backed a provision sponsored by Wonsley Worlobah that would let the city spend $100,000 of American Rescue Plan Act money to bring in someone outside City Hall to partner with community members on a redevelopment plan for the old 3rd Precinct space.

The fire-scared-entrance to the Minneapolis police 3rd Precinct building.
The fire-scarred-entrance to the Minneapolis police 3rd Precinct building is shown on May 30, 2020, days after it was set ablaze.
David Joles | Star Tribune via AP 2020

“Community has stepped up where we have not,” Wonsley Worlobah said at a May 18 meeting. “They would like the city to take that on and do so in partnership with community members. There’s still lots of justifiable distrust about how the city might move forward with that site.”

The timeline is still in the works, and it’s been complicated by turmoil in the city coordinator’s office. 

The City Council delayed its vote on approving Johnston’s nomination as permanent coordinator until June 16 after a group of current and former city employees went public with complaints that she hadn’t done enough to change the “toxic” culture within her department.

Jason Chavez, the City Council member whose ward includes the old 3rd Precinct site and who attended the community meetings, said he’s interested in having something in the space that would support youth in the area, like a center for youth employment or after-school programs and extracurriculars.

Wonsley Worlobah said she’s most excited about ideas like a museum or memorial site, or using the space for a different type of public safety that would provide care for those in crisis without armed responders. She also sees community support to use the old precinct property for mental health care and housing resources.

She said she’s open to many different futures for the property outside of turning it back into the 3rd Precinct or selling the land to a corporate developer.

“I think that would be a slap in the face to every resident in Minneapolis,” she said.