- George Floyd Square is the site of an ongoing protest by residents of Minneapolis.
- Community members put up barricades last May to prevent cars from entering the area where Floyd was killed last year.
- Now the city wants to reopen it, but the community won’t leave until its demands are met.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Marcia Howard is one of the protesters of “George Floyd Square,” the semi-autonomous zone around East 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis, where George Floyd was killed by former officer Derek Chauvin.
Residents quickly took over the square last summer. Cars have to go through checkpoints before entering and police barely enter the four blocks.
For many here, it’s the definition of a safe space.
“It’s exhausting to be black in America,” Howard said. “It’s exhausting. And yet, to be honest, behind these barricades, I’ve never felt more freer in 23 years in this neighborhood. I’m in the free state of George Floyd.”
But the future of George Floyd Square is contested. Local authorities want to tear down the barriers. At a press conference in February, Mayor Jacob Frey called the community out.
“This is not an autonomous zone,” he said. “It will not and cannot be and autonomous zone.”
We spent a week in Minneapolis ahead of Chauvin’s verdict decision to see what’s next for George Floyd Square.
Protesters at George Floyd Square hold meetings every day at 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. Like clockwork, members sit together in a circle around a firepit before Howard begins with a list of assumptions: “No. 1,” she starts, “assume everyone in the square has COVID. Act accordingly. Mask up or back up.”
She mentions the fact that people might be armed and that everything is being recorded, before moving on to the fifth, most important point.
“Assume that everyone in this square, and definitely everyone in this circle, might be a little crazy. Because you’ve got to be cuckoo to think you can take on the state and win.”
On the morning of Chauvin’s trial, throngs of people traveled to the intersection of 38th and Chicago. Many gathered around a wooden fist, erected by a team of artists shortly after his death. Many here say the fist represents the body of an ongoing protest movement.
“These barricades are the rib cage. And the fist is the beating heart of this movement,” Howard said. “What’s being protected…is this font of Black power.”
Members have a list of 24 demands they want to see addressed. It includes ending qualified immunity for officers and the opening of a federal investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department.
“We got 24 demands, but is that too much to ask?” Howard said. “Why do I got to be 47 years old, standing next to my house, saying my life matters, and to have people argue with me? I have to argue about the value of my life?”
Another demand is the conviction for all four cops involved in Floyd’s killing, beginning with Chauvin.
On the afternoon of April 20, emotions ran high in front of the Hennepin County Courthouse as protestors gathered to await the trial’s verdict.
A cacophony of sobbing and cheering reverberated outside when the decision came down. Back at George Floyd Square, the sentiment is echoed, and even louder. Cheering erupted as people stood by the space in front of Cup Foods where Floyd took his last breath.
“God did not let this man die in vain,” one resident shouted. “His life will not be dead in vain. It can’t be. God let this man fight the fight for us.”
But the feeling of victory didn’t last long.
Shortly after the verdict was announced, Mayor Frey held a press conference, alongside city officials, where he gave an ultimatum for the square’s residents: “Moving forward, there will be a reopening of this intersection,” he said.
The city proposes turning the fist sculpture into a roundabout, or relocating it to where George Floyd was killed. None of the options include keeping the space as is, and protesters of the square say they won’t move until the 24 demands are met.
For them, the fight isn’t just about George Floyd. Near the square, people created a “Say Their Names” memorial, where the names of lost black and brown lives live on tombstones, placed by the dozens across a lawn.
“We walked down the road and we see the names that’ve fallen,” Howard said. “You see names that you may be familiar with, like Sandra Bland. You may see the names that you have marched because of, like Philando Castile. You may see names that you studied in school, like Emmett Till.”
“So when they ask us, “Are we done?” the answer has to be a resounding no.”
Throughout the week, people at the square continued to stand their ground, like Madi Ramírez-Tentinger, who defends the square alongside Howard.
“The goal of George Floyd Square is to hold the city accountable, to build community, and to seek justice,” they said.
Their job is to guard one of the four entrances each day.
“Each barricade over the course of the last year has, at times, been personed by people looking out,” Ramírez-Tentinger said. “To keep an eye out for police movement, for suspicious vehicles, for white supremacists, and to greet people. Importantly, to greet people.”
They say in the early summer of last year, the neighborhood surround 38th and Chicago was overwhelmed by chaos and violence. But today, Ramírez-Tentinger says the space feels much safer. Residents have been transforming a former Speedway gas station into a community meeting center. They call it the “Peoples’ Way.” They also created a garden center for visitors.
“Businesses are trying to say that they’re not doing well because of this space, but they can’t separate how much has, because of COVID,” Ramírez-Tentinger said. “I would imagine some of them did a lot better because this space is closed because you’re having constant visitors.”
In the last 8 a.m. meeting during our time in Minneapolis, residents gathered around the firepit and played a piano, which was propped up against a gas pump. People began singing and the crowd was smiling as they listened to Howard’s list of assumptions.
“When you are looking people in the eye, it changes things,” Howard said. “You have to put someone into your keeping in order to consider them in this fight for equality. We hear a lot about white fragility or white guilt and allyship and what it means to be an ally or not. You’re going to have to love me more than you hate police.
While 38th and Chicago is still the site of a tragedy, many say it feels like the safest place in Minneapolis. It’s why Howard says she’ll keep fighting.
“And so every day I show up, because you’re going to see me, and you’re going to hear me, and you’re going to know me,” she said.
“You’re going to love me, so you can fight for me. That’s what we do at 38th and Chicago.”