Crews in Minneapolis demolished barriers around George Floyd Square early Thursday morning, reopening the intersection where George Floyd was killed beneath the knee of a police officer just over a year ago.
According to Sarah McKenzie, a spokeswoman for the city of Minneapolis, the city is collaborating with a community group called the Agape Movement, and crew members are taking care to preserve the artwork, artifacts, and other memorials at the square, including the sculpture of a raised fist. “There is a reopening process in progress,” she explained. Following Mr. Floyd’s death, the four-block area of South Minneapolis where he was killed became a memorial, with people gathering to mourn his death as well as to protest police brutality. It became something of an autonomous zone in the months that followed, with the police staying away to avoid inflaming tensions. Signs around the square, which has been surrounded by concrete barriers, refer to the area as “the free state of George Floyd.”
People gathered early Thursday morning to watch city workers remove the barricades that were blocking the intersection near Cup Foods, the convenience store in South Minneapolis where a teenage clerk called 911 to report that Mr. Floyd had bought cigarettes using a fake $20 bill.
Dozens of city workers and their vehicles were strewn about the area, and caution tape was strewn across the sidewalks. Security booths, which activists built to check for masks, distribute hand sanitizer, and provide protesters with shelter from the rain and cold, were removed on a truck.
What to do with Mr. Floyd’s memorial site has sparked its own debate, with some community activists claiming it has become a haven for criminal activity. In the months following Mr. Floyd’s death, the area around the intersection saw an increase in gun violence, and shooting victims were dragged to ambulances because barriers kept police and emergency vehicles away from the square. Some activists yelled at city officials as they dismantled the barriers around the square on Thursday morning. “No justice, no streets!” exclaimed one.
D.J. Hooker, a community activist, said he arrived at the square around 6:30 a.m. on Thursday after hearing that 100 city workers had arrived before sunrise.
“I believe it is incorrect,” Mr. Hooker stated. “I believe this is not what they should be doing while people are still recovering from Floyd.”
By 8 a.m., however, tensions had subsided, and an activist was handing out coffee and doughnuts to passers-by. There were no uniformed police officers on the scene. According to Ms. McKenzie, the changes will allow vehicle traffic to resume at the intersection.
“We certainly acknowledge that this intersection will never be normal again,” she said, “but we’ve heard from residents and businesses who desperately need to reconnect their neighborhood.”
According to Steve Floyd, an adviser to the Agape Movement, the community activist group that collaborated with the city on plans to reopen the square and establish a long-term memorial at the site, the changes are critical for moving forward. “We can concentrate on other things,” he explained. “We have to keep going.” Some companies applauded the reopening. Cup Foods was closed, but a spokesman for the company, Jamar Nelson, said the reopening of the area was a positive step forward. “Businesses can thrive once more,” he said. “Hopefully, a memorial can now be erected to honor the Floyd family and the community.”
Danielle Fabunmi, who lives in the neighborhood, said she understood that George Floyd Square would not always be as it had been in the previous year, but it was still upsetting to see city workers dismantle the barriers. She stated that the city had caved in response to pressure from local businesses and residents concerned about rising crime. “A lot of people are, you know, really hurt about the way that it’s being torn down,” she said. “There needs to be a reminder of what happened here.”