'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

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Reported Deaths: 7389
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Hennepin1229681733
Ramsey51530876
Dakota46037452
Anoka41844440
Washington26983283
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St. Louis17814305
Scott17324126
Wright16121140
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Carver1051245
Clay816792
Rice8075108
Blue Earth751941
Crow Wing666990
Kandiyohi657383
Chisago603251
Otter Tail575878
Benton572397
Goodhue478772
Douglas468576
Mower466732
Winona455150
Itasca440556
McLeod425459
Isanti424864
Morrison419860
Nobles408148
Beltrami397859
Steele389315
Polk384968
Becker381153
Lyon361251
Carlton346054
Freeborn342129
Pine329122
Nicollet326443
Brown305840
Mille Lacs305353
Le Sueur293123
Todd282832
Cass274628
Meeker257340
Waseca236522
Martin230932
Roseau209419
Wabasha20643
Hubbard190241
Dodge18543
Renville180543
Redwood174537
Houston172016
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Fillmore156710
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Faribault152619
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Kanabec145126
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Aitkin135336
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Jackson121812
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Pope11096
Murray10639
Swift105818
Stevens91511
Marshall88117
Clearwater87016
Koochiching84315
Wilkin81612
Lake81120
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Big Stone6004
Lincoln5813
Grant5788
Mahnomen5539
Norman5409
Unassigned49593
Kittson48622
Red Lake3987
Traverse3705
Lake of the Woods3273
Cook1660

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 367374

Reported Deaths: 5946
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk57696628
Linn20903335
Scott20071242
Black Hawk15825308
Woodbury15141228
Johnson1449883
Dubuque13382209
Dallas1118698
Pottawattamie11140168
Story1062848
Warren577889
Clinton556193
Cerro Gordo541289
Sioux514574
Webster512293
Marshall483275
Muscatine4812100
Des Moines458966
Wapello4305122
Buena Vista424940
Jasper419472
Plymouth401280
Lee376255
Marion363175
Jones299157
Henry292037
Carroll286052
Bremer284960
Crawford266240
Boone265134
Benton256655
Washington253950
Dickinson248543
Mahaska230451
Jackson222142
Clay215725
Kossuth215564
Tama209871
Delaware209741
Winneshiek196935
Page192722
Buchanan191532
Cedar190123
Hardin185743
Fayette185241
Wright184637
Hamilton180249
Harrison179673
Clayton169756
Butler165034
Madison162519
Mills162422
Floyd161142
Cherokee159038
Lyon158241
Poweshiek154934
Allamakee151451
Iowa148924
Hancock148434
Winnebago142631
Cass138654
Calhoun138413
Grundy136433
Emmet134240
Jefferson132735
Shelby130937
Sac130519
Union128333
Louisa128149
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Mitchell126442
Chickasaw124116
Guthrie121530
Franklin120821
Humboldt119126
Palo Alto112823
Howard104622
Montgomery103338
Clarke100224
Unassigned9720
Keokuk95931
Monroe95229
Ida90635
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Davis83524
Monona82730
Osceola78816
Greene77710
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