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George Floyd Square: Intersection Briefly Reopened Before Community Pushback

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- The future of the intersection where George Floyd died is still unclear Thursday after attempts to reopen faced pushback.

The intersection of East 38th Street and Chicago Avenue -- now known to many as George Floyd Square -- was where Floyd was murdered by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who has been convicted and is awaiting sentencing. The intersection has been a place of memorializing Floyd, but has also experienced issues of crime.

The reopening came as a surprise to many of those who live nearby, including the civilian volunteers who have been guarding the area after they blocked it off from police.

At 4:30 a.m., Minneapolis Public Works crews, working with a community group called The Agape Movement, began clearing out the intersection at East 38th Street and Chicago Avenue. According to city spokesperson Sarah McKenzie, Agape led the effort and crews took "great care to preserve artwork and artifacts." The now-iconic raised fist statue will remain.

Agape has been active in the area for some time and has been a presence in the area after Floyd's death. They say their goal is to bridge the gap between the community and law enforcement. Steve Floyd, Agape's senior advisor, says they wanted to make sure these changes were made in a respectful way, and that the community members wanted the reopening.

"We went around the community, we went door to door asking the neighbors what they felt, and over 90% of them said that they wanted to see it opened, but they wanted to see it opened safely," Floyd said. "And we have done it as safely as we possibly could, and we are going to remain out here after it's over because we are going to build this community."

Agape tells WCCO that this is just the first phase of the reopening. While barriers were taken down and the intersection was opened to traffic during morning hours, guardians of the area used their cars to block the roads, making the intersection impassable.

Minneapolis officials tell WCCO the city has worked with Agape for other services in the past, and currently has a $359,000 contract with the group, which runs from June until this fall. Agape will provide several community building, health and safety services connected with the intersection's reopening, in coordination with several city departments.

At a press conference Thursday afternoon, city officials and members of Agape gathered to explain the process behind the planned reopening.

"In my estimation the majority of people have said we need to begin the healing process," Councilmember Andrea Jenkins said. "The healing begins with the reconnection of the intersection of 38th and Chicago with the broader city."

"I know that today feels significant," Councilmember Alondra Cano said. "We have a lot more work to do."

Steve Floyd said they expected resistance to the reopening, and the early morning timeframe was chosen to "avoid pushback."

"We did have a plan that if it was too crazy, we back off," he said.

With some barriers back up, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said there was no firm timeframe for a full reopening.

"[The intersection] is not and will not go back to what it was prior to May 25, 2020," Frey said. "We recognize that there is still pain associated with this street and this intersection."

Steve Floyd said there was broader, three-year plan for the intersection that includes a permanent memorial, and Frey said the city will ensure "the location where George Floyd was murdered never has tires run over it again."

Community Reacts To Reopening Effort: 'I Don't Want Everything To Go Back To Status Quo'

WCCO reporter Christiane Cordero spoke with a mother of three young children, Les Bowden, who lives two blocks from the intersection. She says she has seen some of the beauty from the intersection that's not as widely-publicized. Bowden reflects the feelings of many in the area's community, who fear a return to status quo without meaningful change.

"We don't want to deal with gun violence, but to sit there and say that a closed off street is what's causing gun violence is absolutely ignorant at best," she said. "Now that this is gone, I don't want everything to go back to status quo, especially with the anniversary over, the first trial over. I don't want my kids to feel like I feel."

Eliza Wesley is a gatekeeper at the intersection.

"It can open up, but we're not going anywhere," she said. "We still out here, southside, boots on the ground. When we started it wasn't no barricades, we started with bodies and we started at 38th with their cars. They volunteered to put the barricades out here, so they took 'em. So we gonna start back from scratch."

Jeanelle Austin, one of the caretakers of George Floyd Square, spoke at a press conference Thursday afternoon.

"All we asked for was some restorative justice, that the trauma that the community endured, that the harm would be repaired prior to the reopening of the streets. But instead we were met with more trauma this morning," Austin said. "The city told us that they would let us know in advance before they reopened the streets. That didn't happen."

WCCO reporter Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield spoke with a young man Thursday who said his opinion may be unpopular, so he asked us not identify him or show his face on camera.

"When all of this started at the beginning of the year, it was beautiful, you know what I mean? It was amazing. It was nice to see the community get together, it was nice to see that everyone was just having a good time while supporting something that really matters," he said. "But now it's been a year. It's time to shut down the barriers, it's time to let people live their lives, it's time for people to have a normal life, you know what I mean? There are businesses here … these people, they kind of come in and out, they have to struggle to come in and out. You have people guarding it like it's a military site."

Some of the guardians say they will stand their ground, while others say they will re-assess, as the future is unclear for this historic site.

Minneapolis police were not involved in process of clearing the intersection.

Frey has previously said that the city is committed to memorializing the legacy of George Floyd at that intersection. He issued a full statement Thursday morning, in conjunction with Minneapolis City Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins and City Council Member Alondra Cano:

"The City's three guiding principles for the reconnection of 38th and Chicago have been community safety, racial healing and economic stability and development for Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian and other communities of color.

The Agape Movement brought together community leadership to begin facilitating the phased reconnection this morning, with the City playing a supportive role. We are grateful for the partnership.

We are collectively committed to establishing a permanent memorial at the intersection, preserving the artwork, and making the area an enduring space for racial healing.

Alongside City leadership, we have met on a regular basis with community members to discuss both the short-term path toward reconnecting this area and the long-term plan for the neighborhood with sustained investments to help restore and heal the community.

Chauvin will be sentenced for Floyd's murder in a few weeks. The state is requesting 30 years in prison. Chauvin's lawyers also filed a request on the former Minneapolis officer's behalf. The defense is asking for probation -- prison time equal to what he's already served -- and a new trial.

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