The city of Minneapolis plans to reopen the intersection where George Floyd was killed, but not until after the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, Mayor Jacob Frey and Council Members Andrea Jenkins and Alondra Cano announced Friday.
The intersection at 38th and Chicago must never "return to normal," Frey said, adding that a survey will be sent out in a few weeks for residents to vote on preservation options for the memorial.
"During the trial, we know that 38th and Chicago will be a very important gathering space for community. We don't want to take that away," he said.
At the same time, the mayor signaled that the city is willing to risk a confrontation it has avoided for months. He declared that the intersection cannot be allowed to be an "autonomous zone," and he is laying out steps to eventually reinstate two-way traffic and bus routes after the trial.
Marcia Howard, one of the most stalwart protesters occupying the intersection, said the elected officials' announcement Friday doesn't change anything for her.
"The police have had multiple incursions into this zone in a way to go back to status quo and defile the sanctity of this memorial," she says. "To be clear, this place is multiple things at the same time. It is a memorial, and it is a protest zone. But first and foremost, it is my neighborhood. And so I will continue to stand in my neighborhood, continue to stand in solidarity against systemic oppression, right here at 38th and Chicago. No justice, no street."
City leaders have felt increasing pressure to reopen the streets from business owners and residents. At Friday's news conference, Frey and others praised the memorial but also suggested they were ready to take control.
"Amid the darkness, the community came forward and they managed to shine a light on 38th and Chicago in a beautiful way to memorialize George Floyd," Frey said. "But the intervening months have been far less straightforward. Barricades that were originally placed at the intersection to protect both people as well as the public art are now in many senses used as a screen for illicit activity and have re-traumatized neighborhoods."
The city has been providing garbage pickup, snow and ice removal, and emergency vehicle access to 38th and Chicago. Frey says the intersection will now receive enhanced services, including police, but barricades will remain in place to maintain the space for community gathering and reflection.
"That intersection must open, and must open with an intentional and thoughtful and compassionate way," said police Chief Medaria Arradondo. "When we get to that point of reopening, the Minneapolis Police Department will play a role in that, but we will play a role in it in concert with the collaboration with our community stakeholders."
Cano said that she heard overwhelmingly from residents and business owners that they want both safety and justice for 38th and Chicago. "I feel good about the fact that we did make available more than $10 million, as the mayor and the council, for investments in this area that will physically move us towards racial justice. I have been very impressed with many, many groups and organizations that we have engaged with," she said. "So today, knowing that we expect a difficult month in March, and that the one year marker will come in May, we're here to stand together to say we're going to support our community through it."
Jenkins, the other council member whose ward encompasses the intersection, has been in regular contact with the leaders of the occupation. She said she wanted to see 38th and Chicago continue to thrive, and said reconnecting the intersection to the rest of the city will make that happen.
"2020 has been an extraordinarily challenging year for everyone, but even more specifically the people who have been really rallying around what has now become George Floyd Square, building community, and building a sense of togetherness," Jenkins said. "I think the tragic murder of George Floyd has really created an opportunity for people who have been marginalized, who have been left out of processes throughout our communities, and it's given people a chance to feel like they are contributing, they are making a difference. That is important and I absolutely support that."
The memorial, also known as George Floyd Square, sprang into existence after the fatal arrest of George Floyd by Chauvin and three other officers outside Cup Foods convenience store in May 2020. The intersection also became a hub of food drives and protest against the Minneapolis Police Department, occupied around the clock by a group called Meet on the Street, whose de facto leaders include Howard, Jeanelle Austin, Madi Ramirez-Tentinger. Protest medics with 612 M*A*S*H are another regular presence. They have held movie nights and block parties, and recently constructed an ice rink in the street.
Last August, Meet on the Street issued a list of demands in return for reopening the intersection, which include recalling Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, firing Superintendent Drew Evans of the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, establishing a state office for the prosecution of police, investing $156 million in various community services over 10 years, freeing local man Myon Burrell (whose murder conviction was highly disputed and whose life sentence was commuted in December), and keeping the intersection closed until after the trials of Chauvin and three other officers involved in Floyd's death.
Howard, a former Marine and longtime English teacher who has been on leave from Roosevelt High School since Floyd's death, has been guarding the memorial 17 hours a day, including through this week's cold snap. She often keeps a solitary vigil, but has more than 100,000 followers on Tik Tok, where she posts updates. Howard previously vowed the city would have to reopen George Floyd Square over her dead body if the demands aren't met.
The mayor's declaration that the square will remain closed merely creates the impression that the city has given the protest zone permission to exist, Howard says.
Victoria Lauing, executive director of Chicago Avenue Fire Arts Center, observed that a raft of community investments city officials listed, including the perennial Step Up youth internship program, were not new.
"Our stance has been to listen closely, to learn, to offer the resources that we have here that are unique," she says. "We've had to figure out different ways for people to be able to access our facility, we have to coordinate when we get deliveries, stuff like that. None of it has been insurmountable, we are still here."
Frey, Jenkins and Cano, calling for access for the 5 and 23 buses, have been negotiating terms over the last six months. The city has initiated a truth and reconciliation process examining structural racism in city policy and named 38th Street a city-designated Cultural District.
The City Council has also approved adding the commemorative street name of George Perry Floyd Jr. Place to Chicago Avenue between 37th and 39th Streets.
George Floyd Square is home to a large collection of protest art, including a raised fist sculpture by Jordan Powell Karis, a black-and-white aerosol portrait of Floyd by Peyton Scott Russell and an iconic sunflower mural of Floyd by Xena Goldman, Cadex Herrera, Greta McLain, and others, which was featured during Floyd's funeral in June.
Susan Du • 612-673-4028