In the early hours last Thursday morning, while most of the community was still asleep, the city of Minneapolis came in to tear down George Floyd Square. On Tuesday morning, it tried again. Over the past year, the space at the intersection of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue where a Minneapolis police officer murdered George Floyd has been the center of community healing and a symbol of the fight for justice against police brutality around the world. Though the city later claimed the operation was transparent and publicly supported, it chose an unannounced, predawn clandestine operation to evict one of the most sacred spaces in the city.
The city moved to shut down George Floyd Square less than a week after the one-year anniversary of Floyd's murder. It did so without fulfilling the 24 demands that the community developed and backed as a precondition to reopening.
In a news conference Thursday afternoon, the city stated clearly its motive for evicting the sacred memorial. Steve Floyd, co-founder of the Agape Movement, which the city paid to clear the square, cited "business owners." In a joint statement with the mayor, Council Members Alondra Cano and Andrea Jenkins talked about "economic stability" and "sustained investment." But Mayor Jacob Frey himself said it most clearly: "making this a gathering place for people all around the world …making sure patrons can visit."
This shouldn't come as a surprise. Just weeks ago, Frey and Cano were revealed to be collaborating with the Minneapolis Police Department to funnel resources to a corporate PR firm to manufacture support for the police budget. It's part of a long tradition of closed-door politics in City Hall that shuts out working-class people in favor of the Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Council and other lobby groups pushing privatization and gentrification.
Since the uprising last summer, these groups and individuals that compose the so-called Minneapolis Shadow City Council have worked diligently to claw back the gains made by one of the largest protest movements in U.S. history. They have used the standard tactics of governments faced with organized resistance, including funding organizations that give them political cover. That's why we see large grants going to Black organizations like Agape, A Mother's Love and Push For Peace. The city is using these groups as a front for the state and private forces as they work against the public. While Black men in Agape T-shirts cleared the way for Public Works to dismantle George Floyd Square, lines of police in riot gear stood by just a few blocks away.
Putting local groups at the tip of a corporate counterinsurgency is a tactic that's been used throughout history in countries around the world, because the ruling class has found it to be extremely effective.
It was key to bringing down the Black Panthers when that group's multiracial solidarity work became a real threat to the establishment. Now, this same tactic is being used by Steve Cramer of the Downtown Council, Mayor Frey, Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, Operation Safety Now, A New 612, the DFL Senior Caucus, and a host of other pro-police and pro-corporate players. These are the politically and economically powerful forces who are doubling down to block real change.
After last week, there's no doubt about what these players are after.
A little over a month ago, Condé Nast Traveler released an article on Minneapolis. The first place it mentioned that people should go visit? George Floyd Square. These are the "patrons" Frey invoked at the news conference justifying the eviction: not the community at 38th and Chicago, but the readers of Condé Nast Traveler. The forces of capital don't want to close down the square. They want to close down the community, so they can open the square to corporate development.
We know how the gentrification of the area around 38th and Chicago will play out if corporate leadership gets their way. They'll toss scraps to community groups in the form of grants, while they roll out the red carpet for developers and corporate sponsors to "transform George Floyd Square."
For the past year, George Floyd Square has been a sacred space, a place for healing, and a place for building community, run by community members. What's the future of George Floyd Square under corporate leadership? Close your eyes and you can see it: condos, upscale restaurants and chain stores generating wealth for a select few while community members are priced out, public services and schools remain underfunded, and racial inequality intensifies. You can imagine it there, because we've all seen it before.
Corporate forces in the city have a clear vision of what "transforming George Floyd Square" means to them. It's our job to stop them. We must stand with the community at George Floyd Square and their 24 demands, which means building a strong united movement against gentrification. That means protests, rallies and organized direct action by working people. It means unions, faith communities and nonprofits standing strong together against corporate interests. It means interrogating the funding behind our movements and maintaining political independence from compromised actors in City Hall.
There is power in George Floyd Square. The city knows this, which is exactly why the city doesn't want the community to have it. It will use the killing of a Black man by the police and co-opt the subsequent work of community members in order to pave the way for gentrification. The future of George Floyd Square is a crucial battle in the fight between corporate forces and the people. Which side are you on?
Robin Wonsley Worlobah is a candidate for the Minneapolis City Council in the Second Ward. Aisha Chughtai is a City Council candidate in the 10th Ward. Samantha Pree-Stinson is a candidate for the Minneapolis Board of Estimates and Taxation.