On the approach to George Floyd Square from east 38th St., a new fist sculpture stands a block before the intersection. Stenciled on the street in front of it reads: WE STILL DEMAND followed by a list of the 24 demands outlined in Justice Resolution 001.
Despite city efforts to reopen - and then re-reopen - the streets, those who have held space for a year are still demanding justice.
And they’re not going anywhere.
During the early morning hours of June 3, 2021, municipal workers, with assistance from Agape Movement, removed the concrete Jersey barriers from each of the four entrances to the Square - a year and one day after the city placed them there. By the 8 a.m. community meeting, more than a hundred people had gathered under the “Peoples’ Way” and in the streets to protest their reopening.
Kia Bible, founder of 612 MASH, said this was nothing but spilled milk.
”So they removed the barriers. That’s okay. But you know what they also did? Gave us the opportunity to continue the work. We’ve been out here for 370+ days,” she said. “[We’ve shown that] we can break bread the right way. Hold space.”
Throughout the day, community members showed up to do just that. A portrait of Emmett Till that had been completed the day before was installed. Makeshift barricades were moved into place. By the early hours of the following morning, new fist sculptures stood at the entrances (those barricades have since been cleared, but the fist sculptures remain).
Many of the Jersey barriers removed were placed elsewhere in the Square, some ostensibly as traffic calming devices (the west entrance on 38th St. is reduced to one lane by these repositioned barriers), others directly in front of memorial sites, protecting them from cars but impeding access by visitors.
Most people viewing the large portrait of George Floyd now stand in what is the newly-created northbound traffic lane. Cone-shaped concrete blocks were placed on top of a portion of the memorial for Daunte Wright. Any interaction with the fist sculpture must now be done from inside the traffic lanes of a roundabout.
Surveying the new arrangement, community member Rhea Smykalski shared these thoughts:
“It’s really, really saddening that the city of Minneapolis… would allow this sacred space to be desecrated. Taking memorial flowers, art, letters from GFGM, George Floyd Global Memorial, a nonprofit, and stealing their property. And desecrating the space for the family. And for every other family in the United States that comes here as a mecca to leave their family’s name, their family member’s name, and feel like this space will hold them. Because we are the epicenter of this… It’s gonna take a whole lot more to get us outta here.”
In a press conference that afternoon, Mayor Jacob Frey reiterated what he has said for months, that “38th and Chicago is not and will not go back to where it was prior to May 25, 2020. This intersection will forever be changed.”
Steve Floyd, co-founder and chief advisor of Agape Movement, acknowledged that what some in the movement were doing was courageous and noble, “but now we have to go through a transition to develop our neighborhood and give us an opportunity to build that neighborhood with a new normal.
“We have to change our community,” he said. “We have to develop our young men.”
Despite the mayor calling it a “community-led” endeavor (Agape is located in the Square), many were not informed.
When crews got close to the garden surrounding the fist, Jay Webb, who has been tending the gardens for the past year, stood his ground and held them off. Agape’s Steve Floyd acknowledged that people were shocked when they came in and that they hadn’t had a chance to talk with Webb beforehand. The fist sculpture is now signposted as a roundabout and is still surrounded by gardens.
Caretakers of the George Floyd Global Memorial were also not consulted. Angela Harrelson, a GFGM board member and aunt of George Floyd, said she was traumatized.
“I will never drive my car down the street where my nephew was killed, knowing that he had cried out for his mama,” she said.
A shifting narrative
The mayor has made clear his desire to reopen the streets since August 2020, when the city first asked the community what justice looked like, and again in February 2021, just before the Chauvin trial. Less clear are the reasons why.
In weekly media briefings leading up to and during the Chauvin trial, the mayor pivoted to improving safety at 38th and Chicago, often with rhetoric that hinted at a disproportionate level of violent crime emanating from that intersection. But a close analysis of Minneapolis Police Department crime data showed that in the months prior to the city’s February announcement of their intent to reopen the streets after the trial, crime had already gone down at 38th and Chicago from the three months before that. While this is to be expected during winter months, it was not so at nearby Lyn-Lake, which reported more crime but saw almost no decrease over the same time period. Lyn-Lake received no mention from the city at these public briefings, and is also an intersection located where four neighborhoods come together (see graphic above).
In fact, the mayor kept the focus on 38th and Chicago despite 42 violent deaths being reported elsewhere throughout the city during that same timeframe (August 2020-February 2021) – none of which were inside the barricades at George Floyd Square.
The mayor has also talked about access. Yet for months Public Works was emptying the extra garbage bins and portable toilets that were on site (these were immediately cleared, incidentally, once streets were reopened). Firetrucks and paramedics have also had access throughout. So did the dozen or more (nearly 30 by an eye witness account) squad cars that entered the Square in pursuit of a truck on March 12, 2021 (despite the use of extensive city resources and a widely shared video of the incident, the city responded on May 6 to an open data request that it had no record of this).
Is it for the D Line? This is a bus rapid transit line that will travel from Bloomington to Brooklyn Center, in part along Chicago Ave. A conversation with a Metro Transit spokesperson earlier this year confirmed that a Chicago and 38th St. station is not included in 2021-2022 construction as they await direction from the city and community; alternate routes were not yet being discussed. To re-route around 38th and Chicago would be as doable as it is for every other bus route that doesn’t follow a straight line. In fact, at 60th St. the D Line route itself jogs over to Portland Ave.
Is it for pedestrian safety? With streets reopened, visitors must now walk into traffic lanes to interact with the memorial. Kids, who have used these streets over the past year for roller skating, skateboarding, biking and art making must now be more watchful for drivers rolling through (it was never without vehicle traffic, but the barricades made for slower going). Notably, the mayor’s proposed spending in phase 1 of American Rescue Plan funding earmarks $500,000 for “traffic calming” (spending allocations for these federal funds go to a full city council vote on July 2). The city’s Complete Streets policy places the highest importance on pedestrians and people using wheelchairs. The reason concrete barriers were placed in the first place was to protect pedestrian safety.
According to city officials, some neighbors and businesses want the streets reopened, but it has become clear over the past year that 38th and Chicago is more than a neighborhood traffic intersection. How it will operate under a "new normal" remains to be seen.
Liberation, historic district
Among speakers on June 3 was Myon Burrell, who was freed from prison after his sentence was commuted in December 2020. Number four of the 24 demands is: Open an independent investigation into the conviction of Myon Burrell.
“I have a unique attachment to this. I’m from here,” he said. “I spent more than 18 years of my life in prison for a crime I didn’t commit for bein’ from here, a Black man from right here. I was George Floyd 18 years before George Floyd.”
Burrell went to prison at 16 years old and came out a 34-year-old man. He sees George Floyd as representative of the people, and the space – George Floyd Square – of liberation. So, too, his own freedom.
“When people see me, I represent hope. I represent liberation… I represent dignity. That’s what this space symbolizes for the people.”
Webb, “the Gardener,” got the crowd to repeat after him: “National. Historical. District.” Pointing to different buildings and locations within the Square, he shared his vision of the creation of a justice center, health center, financial center, cultural center and organic gardens, and called to release one million men and women for non-violent crimes.
“Justice first,” he said. Then “when you got peace, you can get healthy.”
George Floyd Square holds many things for people: their pain, their joy, their hope, their anger, their love. The reopening took place nine days after the Rise & Remember event drew thousands to the Square to commemorate the one-year anniversary of George Floyd’s death (see articles "Rise & Remember"). People have since celebrated Juneteenth in the Square. On Father’s Day, a march with a drum line and dance team entered the Square. Visitors from across the country and around the world keep coming.
They are still walking in the street to view the memorial.
And the community is still seeking justice as prescribed by the 24 demands of Resolution 001 (bit.ly/georgefloydsquare-1).