Sarah McKenzie, a spokeswoman for the city of Minneapolis, told The Washington Post that the city is working with a community group on the transition of the memorial. The Agape Movement, a peacekeeping organization whose staff includes ex-gang members, is working with the city to help keep the memorials intact, according to local media.
“This is a community-led reconnection process with the City supporting efforts to reopen the intersection while preserving artworks and memorials to George Floyd,” McKenzie told The Post.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey (D) said at a news conference Thursday that the city will be investing money into the intersection and neighborhood, while emphasizing that the three-phase reconnection is “a critical step” to moving forward and establishing a permanent memorial at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue. The mayor confirmed that the fist sculpture that is in the middle of the roundabout will remain in place.
“This intersection will be forever changed,” Frey said.
Steve Floyd, a senior adviser with the Agape Movement who is unrelated to George Floyd, said earlier in the day that the streets blocked off have “been oppressing the Black businesses” in the area, and he clarified that nothing but barricades were taken away Thursday.
The Minneapolis Police Department was not involved in clearing out the memorial, WCCO reported.
The city’s reopening of the intersection comes a day after prosecutors asked a judge to sentence Chauvin, who was convicted of murder and manslaughter, to 30 years in prison. Ahead of Chauvin’s sentencing later this month, prosecutors argued in a brief filed Wednesday that the judge’s ruling of there being four aggravating factors in George Floyd’s murder is enough to warrant the longer sentence. But Eric Nelson, Chauvin’s defense attorney, Wednesday asked for a downward departure in sentencing, requesting that Chauvin be sentenced to probation with time served.
The four-block area that was home to Floyd’s final moments transformed into something of an “autonomous zone” to where people traveled from near and far to mourn his death and protest police brutality in the city and country. George Floyd Square became covered with memorials for the Black man and the likes of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, who died in incidents that contributed to the nation’s racial reckoning. It was also the site of celebration when Chauvin was found guilty in April, bringing a rare conviction of a police officer for murder and a sense of relief for a community skeptical of the trial’s outcome.
City leaders have faced increasing pressure to reopen the intersection because of what neighbors and business owners describe as an uptick in violence in the area. Imez Wright, a 30-year-old Black man who worked security around the corner and was recognized as a positive fixture at George Floyd Square, was fatally shot at the intersection in March. The first anniversary of Floyd’s death last month was disrupted by gunshots fired near the intersection during a family-friendly street festival.
In a joint statement Thursday, Frey, along with city council vice president Andrea Jenkins and city council member Alondra Cano, said the decision was made as part of the city’s plan to “help restore and heal the community.” Jenkins later told reporters that the decision came, in part, from community members who felt as if they were “being trapped in their homes” due to the crowds around the intersection.
“We are at a year now and we have had this unprecedented conviction of an officer that murdered a member of our community and now it’s time for us to begin the process of rebuilding this community, building a memorial worthy of the life of George Floyd and so many others who’ve lost their lives at the hands of the state,” she said at a news conference.
As word got out Thursday morning about much of the memorial being removed, tensions ran high as residents took to the intersection to document the end of an era. The scene remained peaceful, despite pushback from community leaders over how the city went about its decision. Organizer Mileesha Smith said to KMSP that municipal workers and the Agape Movement ignored the pleas of community members of what to do with the memorials.
“They are going in there and rearranging the whole square to what they want it to be,” she said. “They didn’t ask what it is that we wanted and we felt was best.”
Workers continued to clear out the area for a few hours Thursday even as some supporters began placing plants back in the garden surrounding the fist sculpture that will remain once the intersection is reopened.