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Crews remove barriers, memorials at George Floyd Square

A sprawling memorial was erected at 38th and Chicago — informally known as George Floyd Square — after he was killed by a Minneapolis police officer a year ago.

City crews removed concrete barriers Thursday morning around the south Minneapolis intersection where George Floyd was killed more than a year ago. The disruption of the memorial site prompted local activists, some of whom were angered and surprised, to respond by erecting makeshift barricades.

City leaders described the process in a statement as a "community-led reconnection" of the intersection, which has been closed to vehicle traffic and guarded and maintained by residents since Floyd was killed in May 2020.

Sarah McKenzie, a spokeswoman for the city, said the work began at 4:30 a.m. at 38th and Chicago — informally known as George Floyd Square. It took the crews, using bulldozers and other equipment, about four hours to clear the barriers, artwork, flowers and other items.

"Great care was taken to preserve as much of the memorial, artwork and artifacts as possible," McKenzie said. "Some pieces were collected and moved away from the right of way."

A sculpture of a raised fist several feet tall will remain, she said.

Residents try to stop a loader Thursday after Minneapolis ordered George Floyd Square to be cleared for traffic.Kerem Yucel / AFP - Getty Images

A sprawling memorial was erected in the area after Floyd, a Black man, was handcuffed and pinned facedown on the pavement under the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer for 9½ minutes on May 25, 2020. Floyd called out for his mother and repeatedly said he couldn't breathe.

The officer, Derek Chauvin, was one of four involved in Floyd's arrest outside Cup Foods, a convenience store where Floyd was alleged to have used a fake $20 bill to buy cigarettes. All four officers were fired the next day. Chauvin, who is white, was convicted in April of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

The intersection has been closed to traffic since then. Police have also avoided the area. The Minneapolis Police Department said it was not part of the operation to clear the area.

Floyd's killing galvanized an international movement against police brutality and fueled calls for an end to racial injustice.

City leaders said Thursday after crews had dismantled barricades that they are "committed to establishing a permanent memorial at the intersection, preserving the artwork, and making the area an enduring space for racial healing."

"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," Mayor Jacob Frey, City Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins and City Council member Alondra Cano said in a joint statement.

The Agape Movement, a community organization that has kept watch over the area, coordinated the clearing of the intersection, the statement said. The organization has worked with the city to improve the relationship between police and residents.

Steve Floyd, a senior adviser to the Agape Movement, said the group coordinated with Frey, as well as with the city, its police chief and its Office of Violence Prevention, before it attempted to reopen the site.

"We were expecting pushback," he said at a news conference. "We expected that."

He credited those who had overseen the memorial, including Marcia Howard and Jeanelle Austin, lead caretaker and founder of the George Floyd Global Memorial. Both women live near George Floyd Square.

"This thing was held down by women, and we felt that they did an amazing and incredible job on that," Steve Floyd said. "But now it's time to open it up."

Agape went door to door surveying people in the community about their hopes for the intersection, he said. Ninety percent said they wanted it to reopen safely, he said.

"And we have done it as safely as we possibly could," he said. "And we're going to remain out here after it's over, because we're going to build this community."

Floyd, who is not related to George Floyd, said plans were intensified "when our babies started getting killed."

He cited a spike in violent crime in the city last year, some of it at the intersection and the blocks surrounding it.

"We had to now switch to something else and take it to the other side of Black Lives Matter, which means that we had to approach Black people and say, 'Hey, Black lives matter to us, as well,'" he said.

The modifications at the site, which included shrinking the garden around the fist sculpture, were temporary, and they were made to allow buses and firetrucks to pass through the intersection, Floyd said.

At a separate news conference Thursday afternoon, which Floyd also attended, Frey declined to specify when the intersection will reopen to traffic.

He said he, Jenkins, Cano and Floyd had listened to the concerns of residents and business owners. He acknowledged that reopening the streets would upset some people.

"We recognize that there is still pain associated with this street and the intersection," Frey said. "And we want to be working with the community hand in hand."

In a news conference at the intersection, Austin, a caretaker of the memorial, said that the move was premature and that reopening the streets does not help the community heal.

She said she had not known that there would be an attempt to reopen the streets Thursday.

"It's kind of been this up and down," she said through tears.

She said the city did not deliver on its promise to notify activists before the intersection was reopened.

"No one seems to take into consideration that even in the midst of activism, just maybe, just maybe, that we might be Black people grieving, too," Austin said. "We got more pushback than help."

"People are asking me, 'What's next?'" Austin said. "We have not had the time to process. We need that."

City officials also faced backlash on social media, some of it from Patience Zalanga, a Minneapolis resident, who said their actions were insincere.

"This is what folks are going to say today. 'Well, at least they didn't get rid of ALL the things at the memorial. They still kept some parts,'" she tweeted. "But that's not the point. What they're trying to do is appeal to the public and have you renegotiate your stance about the memorial."

David Gilbert-Pederson, a political consultant in Minneapolis, posted images on Twitter of the memorial as it was being dismantled.

"The community has held this intersection for over a year as a living memorial to George Floyd and a gathering space for Black joy and community building," he said. "They can white wash the record and lie to themselves but we will never forget."