George Floyd Square

George Floyd Square is a memorial site and occupied protest at the intersection of East 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States.[7][8] The street intersection is where Derek Chauvin, a White police officer with the Minneapolis Police Department, restrained George Floyd, an unarmed 46-year-old Black man, by kneeling on his neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds[9][10] after Floyd was handcuffed and lying face down outside the Cup Foods convenience store on May 25, 2020.[11][12][13] The murder of Floyd, which was captured on video by bystanders and circulated widely in the media, sparked a global protest movement about police violence and structural racism.[14] Soon after Floyd's death, people left memorials to him there. The intersection was held for over a year as an occupation protest by people who had erected barricades to block vehicular traffic and transformed the space with amenities, social services, and public art of Floyd and that of other racial justice themes.[2][15][16]

George Floyd Square
Part of George Floyd protests in Minneapolis–Saint Paul
George Floyd memorial at the intersection of Chicago Ave and E 38th St in Minneapolis, Minnesota (50022892592).jpg
George Floyd Square, June 2020
DateMay 26, 2020 – June 20, 2021 (1 year, 1 month, 2 weeks and 6 days)
Location
Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States

44°56′03″N 93°15′45″W / 44.9343°N 93.2624°W / 44.9343; -93.2624
Caused by
GoalsList of 24 demands[1]
Methods
StatusFrom June 20, 2021, traffic is open to vehicles on the streets leading to the square
Casualties
Death(s)

Location of George Floyd Square in Minneapolis.

Local unrest in Minneapolis–Saint Paul immediately after Floyd's death was the second most destructive to property in United States history, after the 1992 Los Angeles riots,[17] but peaceful protest gatherings at the intersection in late May 2020 were free of property destruction, arson, and looting that characterized other local demonstrations.[18][19] The intersection became a place of pilgrimage for many people protesting Floyd's death and other forms of racial injustice.[20] However, in the weeks and months after Floyd's death, the neighborhood surrounding the Square, which had previously held a reputation for gang activity, continued to have elevated levels of violent crime and regular gunfire incidents. These were especially prominent at night, in contrast to what has been described as a "sacred space" during the day.[20] Several people were killed by gun violence at the square since Floyd's death.[21] On June 19, 2020, Dameon Chambers, was fatally shot at the square,[1] on July 5, 2020, Leneesha Columbus was fatally shot a block away from the square and the child she was pregnant with was born but died four weeks later,[4] and on March 6, 2021, Imaz Wright was shot outside the Cup Foods store and died at a nearby hospital.[22][21]

The City of Minneapolis began long-term planning for preservation of public art installments and permanent uses in late 2020.[7] By March 2021, debate about how to open the intersection persisted as the trial of Derek Chauvin commenced, with some residents expressing support for removing the barricades as others preferred that the occupation protest continued until community demands were met.[23] After a guilty verdict was reached by a jury in the Chauvin trial on April 20, 2021, organizers of the occupation of the 38th and Chicago street intersection said they would continue to protest and hold the square until their demands were met, which included awaiting the trial outcome for the other three police officers at the scene of Floyd's death.[24][25] City crews removed barricades at the intersection on June 3 as part of a phased reopening process[26] and vehicular traffic partially resumed several weeks later, on June 20, 2021.[15][16]

BackgroundEdit

38th and ChicagoEdit

38th Street in Minneapolis has been the center of a Black business corridor since the 1930s, and a destination for Black residents and visitors.[27]

Murder of George FloydEdit

At about 8:00 p.m. on May 25, 2020, George Perry Floyd Jr., a 46-year-old Black man, died while being arrested for allegedly using a counterfeit twenty dollar bill at the Cup Foods store at the intersection of East 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in the Powderhorn Park neighborhood of Minneapolis. During the arrest, Derek Chauvin, a police officer with the Minneapolis Police Department, knelt on Floyd's neck for approximately nine minutes after he was already handcuffed and lying face down.[12][13][28] Two other police officers, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane, assisted Chauvin in restraining Floyd, while another officer, Tou Thao, prevented bystanders from interfering with Floyd's arrest.[29] Despite bystanders who confronted the officers over his repeated statement, "I can't breathe" and deteriorating condition, Floyd appeared unconscious at the scene and was transported to Hennepin County Medical Center by ambulance. He was pronounced dead at 9:25 p.m.[30] Two autopsy reports found Floyd's death to be a homicide.[31]

Protest movementEdit

Floyd's death and unrest in Minneapolis–Saint Paul resulted in worldwide protests against police brutality, police racism, and lack of police accountability.[32][33]

Occupation protestEdit

Events in 2020Edit

Protests emerge at 38th and ChicagoEdit

 
Protests and tributes, May 26, 2020

On May 26, 2020, the day after the arrest of Floyd that resulted in his death, several videos by witnesses and security camera footage of the incident had circulated widely in the media, drawing substantial public scrutiny.[34][35] A makeshift memorial emerged at the East 38th Street and Chicago Avenue[36] and people gathered for the first organized protests.[37] Some protesters chanted, "I can't breathe, I can't breathe", words repeated multiple times by Floyd in the video captured of his death.[38] Thousands of people soon flooded the intersection.[39]

By May 27, a group of protesters had blocked the intersection of East 38th Street and Chicago Avenue with a makeshift barrier as they repeated, "Whose streets? Our streets." Some people left memorials by the Cup Foods store, while some protesters spray painted the words "Justice for Floyd" and "Black Lives Matter" on the street surface. No police were present and the protests there was described as peaceful.[40]

Installation of barricades and public artEdit

People that lived near the intersection put up makeshift barricades in response to police cars that were driving through the memorial site late at night. On June 2, 2020, the Minneapolis Public Works Department installed 12 concrete barricades at the various entrances to the square area to ensure pedestrian safety as the intersection was host to many protest rallies.[41] The city said the barricades were to provide a safe gather place at the site, to prevent through-traffic by vehicles, and allow for emergency service access.[42]

Many visitors to the 38th and Chicago intersection left behind flowers by the murals and sculptures created by activists to symbolize the Black Lives Matter movement.[36] By mid June, thousands of visitors protested and grieved at the site, which was described as like a "shrine".[36] On June 13, 2020, in a statement on Twitter, the Minneapolis police said they would "not be altering or decommissioning the memorial of George Floyd. We respect the memory of him and will not disrupt the meaningful artifacts that honor the importance of his life."[43]

Fatal shooting of Dameon ChambersEdit

On June 19, 2020, Dameon Chambers was fatally shot at the Square during a Juneteenth holiday gathering, which became a source of argument about the autonomous zone. A city document reported that emergency service workers were initially unable to reach Chambers to render aid and they had to move him to an area where an ambulance could reach him. Activists at the square said that the police delayed emergency workers.[1]

Fatal shooting of Leneesha Columbus and her childEdit

On July 5, 2020, police responded to reports of a shooting at the Square site.[44] The police initially asked if community members could try to move a shooting victim out of the immediate area to a staging location they set up several blocks away,[45] but they were told that was not an option, so the police responded to the scene and were aided by community members.[46] Police found a vehicle that had been struck by gunfire a block away at East 37th Street and Elliot Avenue and bystanders that were rendering aid to a shooting victim.[44] The victim, identified as Leneesha Columbus, a pregnant 27-year-old woman, died from gunshot wounds. The child she was carrying was delivered at a nearby hospital on July 5, approximately three months prematurely, and later died on August 5.[4] The baby's death was classified as a homicide.[5]

A volunteer peacekeeper at the Square confronted the man who shot Columbus, and was shot in the foot by him.[44]

The Hennepin County attorney's office later charged a 27-year-old man, who was believed to be the baby's father, with second-degree murder and other felony charges, in connection to the shootings on July 5. He was arrested in the U.S. state of Illinois.[44][4]

Protesters present a list of 24 demandsEdit

On August 7, 2020, members of the community organization Meet on the Streets demanded that the city meet a list of 24 demands before removing cement barricades around the intersection.[47][48] These included keeping the intersection closed to traffic until after the trials of the four former officers involved in Floyd's death, firing several specific employees from the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, providing accountability in the cases of several officer involved deaths, investigating the death of Dameon Chambers, and providing resources to the community and a handful of nonprofits operating within the community.[49][50]

Cup Foods store reopensEdit

In August 2020, the reopening of the Cup Foods convenience store, from which a 9-1-1 call by an employee led to the encounter between Floyd and Minneapolis police, generated controversy. Some protesters demanded that the store remain closed for continued mourning and confronted store owners who vowed to keep the store open anyway.[51]

Official designation by the cityEdit

The Minneapolis Planning Commission in August 2020 recommended to the city council that the length of Chicago Avenue between 37th and 39th streets be named as “George Perry Floyd Jr Place”. Minneapolis city officials allocated $4.7 million to establish a permanent memorial at the site.[51] As part of the Minneapolis 2040 zoning plan, local officials also designated the broader 38th Street South area as one of the city's seven new cultural districts to promote racial equity, preserve cultural identity, and promote economic growth.[52] The officially designated 38th Street Cultural District included the portion of 38th Street South from Nicollet to Bloomington avenues.[53][54]

Failed effort to open the intersectionEdit

Violent crime, reports of drug overdoses by night, and the disruption to public transit and business activity by day, had city officials looking for ways to create a permanent memorial while also opening the intersection back up. Conversations among residents in the area centered on anger about the police, the need to preserve a space for racial justice healing, and fears about safety.[3] The city planned to reopen the intersection in August 2020, but backed off the plans to avoid confrontation with protesters at the intersection.[55][56]

Events in 2021Edit

 
Sign at George Floyd Square, March 17, 2021

City announces post-trial plansEdit

On February 12, 2021, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and other city officials announced plans to reopen the intersection to street traffic after the trial of former officer Derek Chauvin, scheduled for March 2021, concluded. About Chauvin's trial, Frey said that the square "will be an important gathering spot during that time".[57] Frey pledged that the intersection would never "return to normal" and that the legacy of the protest movement started by Floyd's death would be recognized there permanently. The city had provided some services over the winter, such as snow and ice removal, but Frey said that police would begin to have a greater presence, though the barricades would remain.[58]

A leader of the community organization Meet on the Street which occupies the square, asserted that the announcement does not change anything.[58] By early March 2021, protesters insisted that the intersection remain closed until their list of 24 demands were met, and until of after the conclusion of the trial of the other three police officers at the scene of Floyd's arrest and death, which was scheduled for August 2021.[1] Meanwhile, some Black small-business owners expressed their desire to have the intersection re-opened as business activity had declined due to a combination of mitigation measures due to the COVID-19 pandemic and safety concerns.[59]

Fatal shooting of Imez WrightEdit

On March 6, 2021, two people were shot outside the Cup Foods store, including Imez Wright[6] (also reported as Imaz Wright[60]), a 30-year old from Minneapolis, who later died.[61][22]

Wright was allegedly shot by the 31-year old Shantaello Christianson, and the incident was captured on surveillance video.[60] Both Wright and Christianson were members of Rolling 30s Bloods street gang, but were on opposites of an internal gang dispute.[60] Wright was hanging out near the Cup Foods store the evening of March 6 when he got into an argument with a relative of Christianson. Christianson then exited a nearby SUV and fired several shots at Wright, striking him in the chest with several shots and in the hand. Christianson then fled in his vehicle as bystanders returned gunfire at the SUV as it fled.[62][60][63]

At approximately 5:45 p.m., Minneapolis police responded to a ShotSpotter alert and 9-1-1 calls for gunfire heard near the intersection of 38th Street East and Chicago Avenue. Callers to 9-1-1 said shooting victims were being carried to the barricaded perimeter of the autonomous zone, but there were no victims there when police arrived. Wright, who had been taken to Hennepin County Medical Center, died later that evening.[64][65] The other victim left the scene and was not found.[64][65]

Wright grew up near the 38th and Chicago street intersection.[63] The neighborhood had a reputation for gang activity and violence. Wright had joined the Rolling 30s Bloods street gang at some point and had several criminal cases against him, including 2012 convictions for domestic abuse and drug possession. In the years prior to his death, Wright's friends said that he was making changes to his own life, and was helping keep at-risk teens away from drugs and gangs.[62][63] Wright had worked in the youth and family engagement division of Change, Inc., a local organization, and mentored Black teens in nearby Saint Paul, Minnesota.[22] He was training to be a mental health practitioner.[63]

By March 2021, Wright was employed by the Agape movement, a community organization that employed ex-gang members and was under a city contract to keep watch over the Square area and surrounding neighborhood.[63] According to colleagues, Wright was conducting outreach at the 38th Street and Chicago Avenue area when he was shot.[22][66] A small memorial was left for Wright outside the Cup Foods store entrance, steps away from where Floyd was killed on May 25, 2020.[1]

Christianson and his wife were arrested on March 10, 2021, at a Brooklyn Center hotel, and found in possession of firearms. Christianson was charged on March 15, 2021, with second-degree murder, first-degree riot, and illegal firearm possession in connection to the March 6 shooting, and he was held in jail on a $1 million bond.[62][6]

Temporary closure amongst increased tensionEdit

On March 8, 2021, in response to Wright's death and elevated tensions in the area with trial of Derek Chauvin beginning, the Agape Movement, a peacekeeping group that had a contract with the city to patrol the Central neighborhood, closed the square to gatherings.[67] On March 9, 2021, while filming a segment just outside the barricaded area, a crew from the television station NewsNation was warned by two people from the square who ordered them to leave. Said one person who approached the crew, "You’re going to be in a bad situation in a second. You’re being called out for what you are. You need to get out of here."[68]

At a news conference on March 11, 2021, city officials condemned recent violence in the area and said they were having daily conversations with the community about how to re-open the intersection.[6] Minneapolis Mayor Frey said, "This is an area that has two truths associated with it. There are portions that you’ve seen there are certainly times that it’s a beautiful community gathering space and I think that needs to be honored and respected. And there have been times where it has been absolutely unsafe."[68]

On March 13, 2021, three suspects were arrested at East 38th Street and Elliot Avenue, a few blocks from the square. Earlier, the suspects had shot at a business near East Franklin Avenue and Chicago Avenue and fled as they were followed by police. At one point, the suspects passed through the intersection of the memorial with five police cars in pursuit. The vehicle was eventually stopped at East 38th Street and Elliot Avenue and the suspects arrested. A still shot from a bystander's video captured the driver smiling as he was being pursued by police through the square. Rumors on social media platforms were that the event was staged, which the Minneapolis police disputed.[69]

In response to escalating violence in the area, on March 17, 2021, the city said that reopening the intersection would not be dependent on the completion of the trial of Derek Chauvin, and that it could come sooner, though it did not provide a specific timeline. Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said police would begin having a greater presence near the intersection. The city also announced a partnership with other law enforcement agencies—including the field divisions for the U.S. Attorney's Office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Alcohol Tobacco Firearms—to bring charges against people committing crimes.[70]

On March 28, 2021, the day before opening statements in the trial of Chauvin, a group of people who were self-identified "anarchists" and "anti-fascists" held a training workshop at the square on how to avoid arrest and keep calm if detained by police. Protesters claimed that the street intersection was not public property and demanded that journalists leave the area before the training workshop began.[71]

By late March, some residents, particularly older people, expressed a desire for city services and police patrols to resume at the square. Other residents felt it was important for the community to continue to hold the square.[23]

Permanent memorial design optionsEdit

In February 2021, the city presented the community with two options to create a permanent memorial at the square, one preserving the roundabout and fist sculpture in the middle of the intersection and another that relocated it to the northeast corner of 38th and Chicago. Results of the survey, released in late March 2021, revealed that 81 percent of resident respondents preferred either option, and 16 percent wrote in they wanted the "justice" before the city made any changes. Protesters at the square objected to the survey and said in a statement on the Twitter website, "This is weaponized study design and weaponized data at work."[72] Some activists holding the square worried that reopening the intersection would reduce focus on Floyd and the issue of police brutality.[73]

Return of rallies and gatheringsEdit

 
Community festival at the square, April 4, 2021

Despite temporary closure after the fatal shooting of Imez Wright, the Square remained an important gathering place during the trial of Chauvin for people protesting racial injustice and seeking justice for Floyd. The square hosted daily visitors from around the United States who made pilgrimages to the intersection.[73] On April 4, 2021, several organizations held a "People's Power Love Fest" rally that was part protest and part festival.[74] The rally also sought support for the police abolition movement in Minneapolis, with organizations seeking signatures for a petition to amend the city's charter to replace the Minneapolis Police Department with a Department of Public Safety.[75] On April 18, 2021, the community held an Asian solidarity rally at the square in support of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders people who had become targets hate and discrimination, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.[76]

Chauvin trial and pledge to continue protestingEdit

Chauvin was convicted of murdering Floyd on April 20, 2021. During the announcement of the guilty verdict, the square was the site of rallying and celebration over the outcome.[77][78] Organizers of the occupation of the street intersection said they would continue to protest and hold the square.[24][25] Activists changed a marquee that had counted down the days to Chauvin's trial to read, "Justice served?", and chanted, “One down! Three to go!”, in reference to the looming trials of officers of the other three officers who participated in Floyd's arrest and subsequent death.[79]

In a press conference after the Chauvin verdict, Minneapolis Mayor Frey described the square as "a critical and important location of racial justice and healing", but said the that city would move ahead with plans to reopen the intersection, and not wait until after the trials of former police officers Thao, Lane, and Alexander that had been scheduled for August 2021.[80]

In a statement that activists posted to the Twitter website, they said in response to the city's plans, "The current state of the intersection known as George Floyd Square is contributing to the peace and safety of the surrounding neighborhoods. ... Amid ongoing threats of White Supremacist violence, in the absence of justice, the barricades and community structures at 38th and Chicago should remain through the trial of all four officers. It’s problematic to misconstrue police brutality as progress toward racial healing."[81] Supporters of the occupation protest created a text messaging alert system to warn each other should city crews attempt to remove barricades and reopen the square before their demands were met.[80]

Several neighbors and businesses owners, citing safety concerns and the unwillingness of police to respond to crimes, objected to continued closure of the intersection.[82] Business owners at the intersection reported that they lost 75 percent of revenue during the occupation, and at least five business had closed.[83][84]

The street intersection area had been a "continuous site of protest" since the day after Floyd died,[85] and at nearly a year after his death, thousands of people from multiple countries had visited the active,[86] protest and memorial site there.[87]

Shooting and one-year anniversary eventsEdit

 
One-year anniversary event of George Floyd's murder, May 25, 2021

On May 25, 2021, the one-year anniversary of Floyd's murder, community activists were scheduled to host a daylong "Rise & Remember" event with public art, activities for children, and music, beginning at 1:00 p.m. CDT at the square. The setup for the event was interrupted at 10:09 a.m. by approximately 20[88] to 30[89] gunshots and a speeding vehicle as bystanders ran for cover.[88][90] Police reports were that the actual shooting happened at a block away from the 38th Street and Chicago Avenue intersection towards Elliot Avenue South.[90][89] At least one bullet struck the storefront window of the Prestige Cuts Barber Lounge barbershop.[91] The incident happened as live news reports were being filmed at the intersection, which captured audio of the gunshots and video footage of a dark-colored SUV driving through the intersection that is normally closed to traffic.[90] One person was treated at a nearby hospital for non-life threatening wounds from a gunshot.[88]

Crowds gathered later in the afternoon on May 25 for planned events, memorials, and celebrations.[92] Some residents near the intersection expressed their desire for Meet on the Streets, the activist group holding the square, to end the occupied protest and for barricades to be removed. In their view, the occupied protest had unintended consequences such as violence and disruption of business activity that harmed Black residents.[93] Volunteer activists said that they intended for the square to remain a "symbol for continued protests for justice" despite whatever the future plans for the street intersection that may re-open it to street traffic.[94]

City reopening processEdit

Unannounced and early in the morning on June 3, 2021, Minneapolis city officials had cement barricades and other objects removed that were placed in the streets of the surrounding blocks to prevent the flow of vehicular traffic. Though the scene was initially tense as demonstrators that gathered chanted and yelled at city workers, the crowd later became more relaxed. The Minneapolis Police Department did not participate in the process. After city crews left, activists quickly replaced the cement barricades with other objects to continue the halting of vehicular traffic for the one-block radius around the intersection of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue.[26]

 
City crews at George Floyd Square, June 3, 2021

City officials left the large fist sculpture in the middle of the intersection and said there were plans to preserve artwork and create a more permanent memorial at the intersection. Andrea Jenkins, the Minneapolis city counselor who represented the area, explained that a majority of people supported reopening the intersection as part of the community's healing process. Jacob Frey, the Minneapolis mayor, said that intersection would be forever changed, but that the city would start to restore some services that had been disrupted by street closures. The sudden action, however, provoked anger by some in the community. Several activists spoke out at a press conference that afternoon in opposition to the city's action. Among them, Jaylani Hussein, director of the Minnesota Council on American-Islamic Relations, said it was an attempt to "delete history".[26][95]

By June 4, activists had restored the intersection to much of the way it was before and re-blocked vehicular traffic by erecting makeshift barricades, reinstalling a garden and other amenities, and putting up additional artwork. Activists pledged to continue protesting until their demands were met.[96] On June 20, for the first time in over a year, vehicular traffic resumed through the 38th and Chicago street intersection under the city's phased reopening process.[15][16] Despite the streetway reopening, the area of the square remained the location of active protest.[97]

Public art, amenities, and servicesEdit

George Floyd Square and surrounding area became the location of a broad collection of protest art.[58] Volunteers also used the area as a staging ground for protest gatherings, community meetings, food drives, and neighborhood movie nights. In winter, they created an outdoor ice rink for skating.[58] The parking lot of the boarded up Speedway gas station hosted a small library and food shelf. Volunteers removed trash and tended to art exhibits.[73] About amenities and activities at the square, one volunteer remarked, "Black joy is a form of protest."[1]

Raised fist sculptureEdit

 
Landscaped roundabout, June 19, 2020

A large wooden sculpture of a raised fist was erected in the middle of the East 38th Street and Chicago Avenue intersection. It was created by unknown artists. In mid 2020, the city began to consider several options to preserve the sculpture, either in the middle of the intersection or relocating it to the northeast corner.[98] On Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2021, volunteers replaced the plywood fist sculpture with a steel version that could withstand weathering. The steel replacement was designed by local artist Jordan Powell Karis, and built with the help of community members and the nearby Chicago Avenue Fire Arts Center.[99][100] On April 14, 2021, the same wooden sculpture that had been at the square re-emerged in Brooklyn Center during protests over the killing of Daunte Wright by a police officer[101]

Blue-and-yellow muralEdit

A blue and yellow mural of George Floyd on the side of the Cup Foods grocery store became one of the most recognizable images of the global protest movement that was sparked by his death, and a digital rendering of it served as a backdrop to his casket at his funeral in Houston, Texas.[102][103][104] Created by community artists Cadex Herrera, Greta McLain, and Xena Goldman, the iconic mural was one of the first public artworks to emerge in Minneapolis that honored Floyd's memory in Minneapolis.[105][58] At the suggestions of a community member, the words "I can breathe now" were added mural to promote community healing, which meant to reflect spiritually on Floyd's dying words, "I can't breathe".[103] The work drew some criticism for being created without the input of Black artists and the nearby community, and it started a discussion about representation in the artist response to Floyd's death.[106] It was later vandalized twice.[58]

Black-and-white muralEdit

 
Black-and-white mural amongst mementos and public art, August 5, 2020

Peyton Scott Russell, a Minneapolis native and street artist, created a 12-foot-by-12-foot black-and-white mural of Floyd's face. It was created in his studio over three days and re-located to the intersection in early June 2020. Pictures of the mural were shared worldwide.[104]

Countdown clockEdit

A letter board sign on an abandoned Speedway gas station on the northwest corner of the intersection, rebranded by protesters as "The People's Way", was used to count down the days to the trial of Derek Chauvin.[107][108][23]

Medic volunteersEdit

A group of protest medics staffed a bus parked at the square that was referred to as "612 M*A*S*H". The acronym “MASH” stood for Minneapolis All Shall Heal and 612 was a reference to the Minneapolis area code. The medical volunteers, who were health professionals, provided some free medical services, such as basic first aid and trauma care, to people at the square.[109][110] A tent the group used was destroyed by fire on October 7, 2020, and the group created a winterized space for use for the months afterwards. The volunteer-led effort codified as 612 MASH, a 501c3 nonprofit organization, with plans to serve other locations in Minneapolis.[111]

"Say Their Names Cemetery"Edit

 
Symbolic cemetery, March 17, 2021

In a grassy area on East 37th Street, a block north from George Floyd Square, artists created a symbolic cemetery with 150 headstone markers for People of Color that had been killed by police.[58] The exhibit was initially conceived by student artists Anna Barber, a Chicago resident, and Conner Wright, a Missouri resident, and was created with the help of 15 local volunteers. It began with 100 headstones of Black persons killed by law enforcement, including memorials for Philando Castile, Tamir Rice, Jamar Clark, Breonna Taylor, and Aiyana Jones, among others.[112][113]

"Guardians"Edit

Protesters reinforced the city-installed cement barricades by using iron bars in the style of Czech hedgehogs and bike racks.[114] Resident-appointed "guardians" manned the barricades and makeshift, weatherproof shacks around the square. They controlled who could enter the street intersection,[115] and sometimes only allowed residents that lived nearby to pass after being cleared to do so,[23] and "warned" people who attempted to enter without authorization.[114] The guardians were described as predominately White neighbors, who would work with emergency services, but would not allow police to enter the square.[115]

List of protester demandsEdit

Protesters presented the city with a list of 24 demands on August 7, 2020, that they wanted met before the intersection be re-opened to vehicular traffic:[116][117]

 
A sign referencing the list of demands, May 18, 2021
  1. Recall Mike Freeman, Hennepin County Attorney.
  2. Fire several employees of the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.
  3. Provide accountability and transparency of several criminal cases.
  4. Open an independent investigation into the conviction of a person convicted of recent crime.
  5. Establish independent investigation and prosecution of Minneapolis law enforcement, appointed by the Governor of Minnesota.
  6. Require law enforcement officers to maintain private, professional liability insurance.
  7. Ban the indemnification of law enforcement officers.
  8. End qualified immunity.
  9. Hold the trial of the four former officers charged in the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
  10. Invest $400,000 into the George Floyd Square Zone through the neighborhood associations to create new jobs for young people, which will help deter violence.
  11. Invest $300,000 into the George Floyd Square Zone through the neighborhood associations to provide Undoing Racism training for the Black community provided by the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond.
  12. Adopt and implement the 2019 Livability and Safety Platform Proposal submitted by the South Minneapolis Public Safety Coalition to the City Council.
  13. Allocate funds for integrative health services to support residents of the George Floyd Square Zone through the ReCAST grant managed by the Division of Race & Equity.
  14. Establish a moratorium on property tax increases for residents of the George Floyd Square Zone for 2 years.
  15. Include a rent-to own option in new housing construction for renters.
  16. Allocate a facade grant to George Floyd Square to improve the aesthetics of the business corridor.
  17. Establish and distribute a contingency fund for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) businesses located in the George Floyd Square according to the needs of each business owner, not their landlords, to ensure the preservation of Black-owned businesses and promote race equity.
  18. Provide Agape a space for their operations within the George Floyd Square Zone.
  19. Gift 612-MASH a blood bank bus or a coach bus to continue care for anyone who enters the memorial site during the winter months.
  20. Release the death certificate of Dameon “Murphy Ranks” Chambers.
  21. Open and complete an investigation of the murder of Dameon "Murphy Ranks" Chambers.
  22. Hold law enforcement accountable for impeding EMS response and the mishandling and delay of Dameon "Murphy Ranks" Chambers case within the zone.
  23. Drop the charges against non-violent protesters from 2016 to 2017.
  24. Continue the closure of the intersection of 38th Street East and Chicago Avenue South until after trial of the four officers charged for the murder of George Floyd.

Occupation protest impactEdit

"Autonomous zone" and policingEdit

A sign at an entrance to the barricaded area around the square read "You are now entering the Free State of George Floyd". The mantra "No justice, no street" was frequently used by protestors who occupied the intersection, who had presented a list of demands to the city before they would agree to have the intersection reopened.[56] Supporters of the occupation protest referred to the area as an "autonomous zone", while detractors used the term "no-go zone" to describe the area and occupation protest. The Minneapolis Police Department did not publicly acknowledge that the area was autonomous, but discussions between police officers picked up by scanners revealed a reluctance to enter the area.[45][118] Minneapolis Mayor Frey asserted in February 2021, that the square "is not an autonomous zone and will not and cannot be an autonomous zone”.[119]

Police officers largely avoided the area surrounding the square in the months after Floyd's death, furthering the perception that the area was a "police-free" or "no-go" zone.[3] In some instances, the police were unwilling to enter the area to retrieve victims of crimes, and asked victims to exit the barricaded perimeter to receive aid. A volunteer team of medics inside the square treated many minor injuries and helped transport people to police and emergency medical services nearby.[45] Shooting victims from gunfire had to be dragged out of the square area to reach emergency vehicles.[120] After calling 9-1-1 to seek help, several domestic assault victims were told by police to move outside of the barricaded area in order to receive aid.[82] Police and residents near the square said that stolen vehicles were abandoned near the square and people fleeing police used the barricaded area to evade the pursuit of law enforcement.[121] Tow truck companies refused to haul away vehicles that had been stowed there.[114] Fearing violence, some food delivery service drivers refused to venture into the square area.[120]

Crime and safetyEdit

Concerns about public safety issues created tension within the community and challenges for city officials.[122] Prior to Floyd's death there on May 25, 2020, the intersection had a reputation for gang activity, but it was transformed into a memorial space and community gathering spot. By nightfall, however, the autonomous zone was known for regular gunfire incidents. In the seven-week period after Floyd's death, 11 people were shot and 233 gunfire incidents were reported in the area, which did not have a single gunfire incident during the same stretch of time the previous year. Some gang members used the barricades around the site to control entrance, allowing illicit business to continue undisturbed, and authorities investigated an illegal arms dealer who used the site for gun sales.[20]

Some residents felt the police had pulled back from the area of the memorial site to avoid confrontation, and that they had refused to engage with perpetrators and victims of crimes.[45] When police did enter the square to respond to emergencies, they encountered hostile crowds.[20] Officers often requested that volunteer medics and community patrol members bring suspects and victims outside the barricaded area where officers could pick them up. The cautious approach by the police came as violent crimes in the area rose sharply.[45] At Chicago Avenue and East 35th Street in Minneapolis, a few blocks north of the intersection, Mario Sanchez Mendieta, a 17-year old, was shot and killed on July 23, 2020.[123][124] On July 27, 2020, 29-year-old Andrew DeJon Davis was shot and killed at the same location. Though it occurred close to the memorial, the homicide was not believed to have had anything to do with the site.[125] On December 27, 2020, when police responded to reports that two people had been shot at the square, police could not find the victims and claimed that evidence was removed from the scene.[55]

By late 2020, a surge in the number of reported violent crimes was considerably higher in the Minneapolis Ward 8 area that included the autonomous zone than compared to city-wide averages. Some advocates argued that community members felt safer with the volunteer patrols of the area, while other residents said they did not feel welcome at the square and that the autonomous zone was an unsafe way to accomplish change.[122] When officers responded to shootings in the area, they claimed that bystanders destroyed evidence, making investigations of crimes difficult.[126] Leaders of the Worldwide Outreach for Christ, a church with a several decade presence in the area, believed that the occupation protest gave cover to the activities of illegal street gangs.[21]

The number of violent crimes at the intersection and surrounding blocks increased significantly in 2020 compared to the prior year, as did citywide totals. In 2020, there were 19 fatal and nonfatal shootings in the area, including 14 between May and August, which compared to 3 in all of 2019.[1] Gunshots detection by the ShotSpotter system for the area around 38th Street and Chicago Avenue increased from 33 in 2019 to 700 in 2020.[70] Violent crime in the Minneapolis neighborhoods of Powderhorn Park, Central, Bryant and Bancroft—the broader area around the square—increased 66 percent in 2020; Minneapolis as a whole saw a 25 percent increase in violent crimes such as homicides, rapes, robberies, and assaults.[120]

Cup FoodsEdit

 
Cup Foods, June 24, 2020

The Cup Foods grocery store, owned by a Palestinian-American family, had been a fixture in the neighborhood for three decades. The area around it had also been the location of violent crime, illicit drug dealing, loitering, and undercover police surveillance since the 1990s.[127] In December 2000, the city temporarily shut the store down for several months after recovering stolen electronics, ammunition, and materials for illicit drugs inside Cup Foods–leading to a constant police presence around the property.[128] For many of its customers, the store provided fresh produce and commodities such as cigarettes and pre-paid cellphone minutes. Though Floyd lived 20 minutes away in the nearby suburb of St. Louis Park, he was a frequent customer at the store.[127] Floyd's death led to further scrutiny of the store and its relationship with the Minneapolis police and its off-duty police officers who were known to provide paid security services. Among public conversation about how to evolve the street intersection space into a permanent memorial, some activists circulated petitions to permanently close the store.[128]

Black-owned businessesEdit

Several Black business owners at the intersection felt the city had abandoned them and failed to protect their safety and economic livelihoods. They objected to the barricades and civilian gatekeepers who made unilateral decisions about who could enter the square. Nearly 10 months after the occupation protest, the businesses had received no direct assistance from the city as compensation for barricading the area, and they felt that their tax dollars should not have been taken without the provision of basic services.[129][130]

The City of Minneapolis reached a $27 million wrongful death lawsuit settlement with Floyd's family that it announced on March 12, 2021.[131] The city allocated $500,000 as part of the settlement "for the benefit of the community around 38th Street and Chicago Avenue". Floyd's family hoped it would help struggling Black-owned business in the area and encouraged others to match the donation.[131][129] In late March 2021, the city created a $1 million small-business loan program to help struggling small business and non-profit organizations at the square.[132]

A group of Black-owned businesses at the intersection formed the 38th Street Black Business Collective in early April 2021 to advocate for financial assistance from the city and to re-open the intersection. The group said it had joined the community in calling for justice for Floyd, but they believed that the autonomous zone had "unintended economic downfall" for local business by using them as "sacrificial lamb". Group members blamed the closure of the intersection to traffic, reduced police presence, and rising crime as factors in reduced business revenue.[130]

AftermathEdit

The occupation of the street intersection lasted for over a year, from May 26, 2020,[36][37] to June 20, 2021, when it was partially reopened to vehicular traffic.[15][16] The square area hosted visitors from around the world and was used as an immersive classroom to teach students and others about racial injustice.[21] Many of the works of art installed at the square had obtained worldwide recognition.[102][104] The city's phased reopening process of the square included ways to preserve art and history and promote local business, such as installing parklets to calm vehicular traffic and provide more seating for area restaurants.[133] The square continued to serve as a community gathering location with crowds converging to hear the announcement of Derek Chauvin's prison term on June 25, 2021, and featured the mantra, "One down, three to go!" in reference to the criminal trials of the other three officers at the scene of Floyd's death.[134]

Media coverageEdit

The intersection has been the location of many protests, rallies, and demonstrations. It is also served as a backdrop to media coverage on the protest movement sparked by Floyd's death. In August 2020, it was subject of a multi-part PBS News Hour series, "George Floyd Square: The epicenter of a protest movement that’s swept the world."[135] In December 2020, it was the subject of a monthlong series by Minnesota Public Radio, "Making George Floyd's Square: Meet the people transforming 38th and Chicago".[136] In 2021, Danielle Frazier received a Pulitzer special citation recognition for the video she filmed outside the Cup Foods on May 25, 2020, of George Floyd's murder.[137]

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

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Further readingEdit