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'George Floyd Square' to reopen after Minneapolis murder trial

George Floyd Square is shown on Feb. 8, 2021, in Minneapolis. Ten months after police officers brushed off George Floyd's moans for help on the street outside a south Minneapolis grocery, the square remains a makeshift memorial for Floyd who died at the h
George Floyd Square is shown on Feb. 8, 2021, in Minneapolis. Ten months after police officers brushed off George Floyd's moans for help on the street outside a south Minneapolis grocery, the square remains a makeshift memorial for Floyd who died at the h

City leaders concerned about crime and impact on businesses.

Posted: Mar 6, 2021 9:47 AM

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — During a group's recent meeting at the now-vacant Speedway gas station near where George Floyd died, children roasted marshmallows on a fire pit while adults discussed topics ranging from activism to snow removal.

“Black joy is a form of protest,” said Marcia Howard, one of the group's organizers, referencing plans for celebrating Arctic explorer Matthew Henson as part of Black History month.

But the agenda on this chilly Thursday morning in February quickly segued to more immediate concerns: Who would pick up skis and broomball sticks for an event being planned at a nearby park? And what's to be done about the snow piling up at the site's greenhouse that preserves plants left in Floyd's memory?

Such is life at George Floyd Square, the place where the Black man died after former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee on Floyd's neck for about nine minutes. Although many in the community consider it a sacred space, it also has presented some headaches for the city.

The square sprang up organically in the days after Floyd’s death. As people gathered to express their grief and anger, including leaving offerings, community members set up barricades of refrigerators, trash cans and wooden pallets to block traffic. The city eventually replaced those with concrete barriers.

Amid concerns that the barricaded square was decimating businesses and making the neighborhood less safe at night, city leaders recently pledged to reopen it after Chauvin's murder trial. Jury selection starts Monday, and the trial is expected to stretch into April.

The residents and activists who serve as unofficial leaders and organizers of George Floyd Square say they won't step aside unless the city meets their list of 24 demands. Among them: recall the county prosecutor, fire the head of the state's criminal investigative agency, and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on programs to create jobs, combat racism and support affordable housing. They also are demanding that the square remain closed until the trials scheduled for August of the other four officers charged in Floyd's death.

Since the city asserted it would reopen the square after Chauvin's trial, the caretakers of the space have declined to talk in detail about negotiations to reopen it. Jeanelle Austin, a racial justice leadership coach and a lead caretaker of the memorial area, said the demands that fall within the city's control aren't unreasonable.

“The thing about it is that a lot of the different demands are asks from different people, and Black folks aren’t monolithic,” said Austin, who is Black. “So it’s really incumbent upon our city leadership to really look at the needs behind the asks, and really fulfilling those needs.”

A towering steel sculpture of a raised fist dominates the middle of the intersection, a replacement for the wooden sculpture that first went up. Murals memorializing Floyd or marking the struggle against discrimination have overtaken nearly every vertical surface. Warming houses are available at the barricades, and so is hand sanitizer in a nod to COVID-19 safety precautions. A small library, a community closet for clothing and food shelves are among various services available to visitors.

Howard, a 47-year-old retired Marine who lives around the corner from the square, was so affected by Floyd’s death that she took a leave from her job as a high school English teacher to more or less watch over the square. Howard said the neighborhood has been largely supportive of volunteers, with many residents cooking food for them.

A video on her TikTok account shows a resident’s child giving her a cupcake as the family left the square, bringing Howard to tears.

“I haven’t had to grocery shop in six months,” she said.

But the support isn't total.

Andrea Jenkins, one of two City Council members representing parts of of the neighborhood, said some of her constituents have complained about gunshots and the frequent sound of police helicopters overhead.

“The neighbors deserve to have a level of comfort that does not include gunshots every night, and muggings and carjackings, and all the violent crimes we have been witnessing in this community,” Jenkins said.

Violent crime at the intersection and the blocks immediately surrounding it rose dramatically in 2020, though crime also increased citywide. There were 19 nonfatal and fatal shootings in the area in 2020, including 14 shootings from May 1 through Aug. 31. That’s compared with three shootings in all of 2019 and none during the summer months.

Mayor Jacob Frey and Police Chief Medaria Arradondo last month disputed frequent characterizations of the square as an “autonomous zone” but cited those perceptions as a major reason it must be reopened.

Jenkins said officers have been met with “protests, resistance, opposition” that have sometimes led them to avoid policing the area. Howard and other leaders dispute that anyone in the square has impeded officers.

A flashpoint of that argument was the fatal shooting of Dameon Chambers at the square when many people had gathered to celebrate the Juneteenth holiday.

A city document says emergency services workers were unable to get to Chambers and that police “ultimately had to pull Mr. Chambers to an area where the ambulance could access the area.” The Floyd Square caretakers say it was police who delayed emergency workers, and their demands include an investigation of his death.

“The narrative will be, to this day, that the people blocked the EMS,” Howard said. “Show me the bodycam footage of people blocking emergency services vehicles for a dying Black man. You won’t have it, because it doesn’t exist.”

Jenkins and others also argue that businesses in the area are being hurt by the street closure. She said business occupancy in the area has fallen from more than 90% last March to “probably less than 50%” nearly a year later, although it's difficult to discern the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on those numbers.

The Speedway is now closed, with a sign that once displayed gas prices now showing a countdown to Chauvin's trial, and other storefronts lay vacant. Several businesses do remain open, including a couple of restaurants, a salon and a laundromat.

Members of Howard's group say that while they're hoping Chauvin gets convicted, the occupation of the square is about far more than the case against him.

“Injustice closed these streets, and only justice can open them back up," Howard said.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 612701

Reported Deaths: 7761
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1270801803
Ramsey53350911
Dakota47466477
Anoka43482465
Washington27810296
Stearns22764227
St. Louis18353320
Scott17763139
Wright16615153
Olmsted13587104
Sherburne1218596
Carver1080349
Clay830792
Rice8300112
Blue Earth772844
Crow Wing691799
Kandiyohi673185
Chisago629955
Otter Tail592687
Benton588298
Goodhue487674
Douglas480881
Mower478834
Winona466452
Itasca463968
Isanti447567
McLeod436661
Morrison429562
Beltrami411863
Nobles411750
Steele401819
Polk391372
Becker390057
Lyon366454
Carlton357158
Freeborn353634
Pine338123
Nicollet335145
Mille Lacs316856
Brown309340
Le Sueur301228
Todd289633
Cass289133
Meeker267644
Waseca241823
Martin237633
Roseau212921
Wabasha20883
Hubbard198941
Dodge19173
Renville184246
Redwood178941
Houston176516
Cottonwood168224
Wadena165323
Fillmore160510
Faribault157820
Chippewa154438
Pennington154120
Kanabec148128
Sibley147710
Aitkin140237
Watonwan13629
Rock129919
Jackson123212
Pipestone117326
Yellow Medicine115620
Pope11416
Murray107710
Swift107718
Koochiching96919
Stevens92711
Clearwater89517
Marshall89017
Lake85121
Wilkin84613
Lac qui Parle76222
Big Stone6134
Grant5958
Lincoln5873
Mahnomen5669
Norman5519
Kittson49222
Unassigned49093
Red Lake4037
Traverse3835
Lake of the Woods3504
Cook1740

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 376815

Reported Deaths: 6122
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk59215646
Linn21567342
Scott20530250
Black Hawk16850320
Woodbury15378230
Johnson1479586
Dubuque13627215
Dallas1150699
Pottawattamie11393177
Story1092548
Warren594392
Clinton565894
Cerro Gordo564898
Webster546397
Sioux520574
Muscatine4956106
Marshall493679
Des Moines481776
Jasper454273
Wapello4402124
Buena Vista432340
Plymouth405782
Lee396958
Marion372378
Henry301737
Jones301357
Bremer294663
Carroll287252
Boone273735
Crawford273541
Benton264255
Washington261051
Dickinson251145
Mahaska235151
Jackson225943
Kossuth222166
Clay217927
Tama213872
Delaware213343
Winneshiek201337
Buchanan197834
Page195722
Cedar194323
Hardin192544
Wright191240
Hamilton189251
Fayette188943
Harrison182873
Clayton173258
Butler169135
Madison168019
Floyd165242
Mills164724
Cherokee162238
Lyon161241
Poweshiek159836
Allamakee156452
Hancock154034
Iowa149124
Winnebago147031
Calhoun144813
Cass142155
Grundy139733
Emmet137341
Jefferson135535
Sac133320
Shelby132238
Louisa130749
Union129535
Franklin129223
Appanoose128749
Mitchell127343
Chickasaw126017
Humboldt126026
Guthrie125332
Palo Alto115224
Montgomery106938
Howard105522
Clarke102624
Monroe101533
Keokuk100432
Ida93735
Adair90132
Davis88525
Pocahontas87022
Monona86731
Greene80011
Osceola79517
Lucas78323
Worth7648
Taylor67112
Decatur6649
Fremont64910
Van Buren57318
Ringgold57124
Wayne56623
Audubon53613
Adams3504
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