Minneapolis Removes Memorials and Barricades From ‘George Floyd Square’

City workers began clearing the intersection where the police killed Mr. Floyd just over a year ago. The reopening efforts drew criticism from some activists.

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MINNEAPOLIS — Arriving before dawn on Thursday, city workers began removing memorials and barricades at the Minneapolis intersection where the police killed George Floyd just over a year ago. The unannounced effort to reopen the area to traffic instead brought hundreds of people to the scene in protest.

The crews arrived at 4:30 a.m. with bulldozers and other equipment to move the concrete barriers that have for more than a year blocked the intersection outside of Cup Foods. A white police officer knelt on the neck of Mr. Floyd, a Black man, outside the corner store for more than nine minutes in May 2020 as he took his last breaths.

The corner at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue, now known unofficially as “George Floyd Square,” had evolved into a community space that people visited from around the world, to pay their respects or simply to say that they had been there. When a jury found the former police officer, Derek Chauvin, guilty of murdering Mr. Floyd in April, hundreds of people erupted in cheers outside of Cup Foods.

But the intersection had also become an autonomous zone of sorts that the police avoided; some residents complained that it had become dangerous and detrimental to nearby businesses. Several shootings have erupted in the area, including in broad daylight on the anniversary of Mr. Floyd’s death last month, attracting a wave of negative attention.

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Works crews arrived at 4:30 a.m. with bulldozers and front loaders to remove the concrete barriers that have for more than a year blocked the intersection outside of Cup Foods. Credit…Jenn Ackerman for The New York Times

The city’s decision to open the spot back up to traffic sparked anger among some activists, and hundreds of people flocked to the scene and began replacing the barriers that have halted traffic in a one-block radius around the South Minneapolis intersection.

“I think it’s wrong,” said D.J. Hooker, a community activist who arrived early on Thursday after hearing that the memorial was being taken down. “This not what they should be doing while people are trying to still heal.”

Workers were preserving the artwork and other artifacts that they removed from the corner, a city spokeswoman said, and they left a large, raised fist in the center of the intersection in place. Sarah McKenzie, the spokeswoman, said the city was working with the Agape Movement, an organization that has provided security in the area and has worked with the city to improve the relationship between police and residents.

“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,” Mayor Jacob Frey of Minneapolis and two members of the City Council, Andrea Jenkins and Alondra Cano, said in a joint statement on Thursday. They said the city was “playing a supportive role” to help the Agape Movement and community leaders in the removal, though city workers seemed to be taking the lead.

One member of the Agape Movement, Akeem Cubie, said the group had advised city officials about how to peacefully reopen the intersection, but added that the officials had not told him exactly when it would be cleared. Mr. Cubie, 32, dismissed the mayor’s suggestion that city officials were only playing a secondary role.

“That is the narrative,” he said. “They don’t want to take the backlash coming in here.”

Agape Movement members, some of whom have spoken about being former members of gangs, have received harsh criticism for working with the city. But Mr. Cubie, who grew up near the intersection and now lives elsewhere in Minneapolis, said it had become a hub for gang activity. Reopening it, he said, would make it safer for the community.

“What is this here for?” he asked, motioning to the intersection filled with protesters. “Is this here for you to just come over here and have a good time? Our life doesn’t turn off even though you probably have a good time. We’ve still got to go home.”

Dozens of city workers in yellow vests and their vehicles were scattered through the area on Thursday, and caution tape lined the sidewalks. Employees moved some barriers and loaded others onto flatbed trucks. Unofficial security booths, built by activists to check for masks, give out hand sanitizer and provide protesters a refuge from the rain and cold, were taken away on a truck.

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The intersection know as George Floyd Square last week on the anniversary of Mr. Floyd’s death. The spot in South Minneapolis where he was killed became a memorial.Credit…Caroline Yang for The New York Times

In the days after Mr. Floyd’s death, a makeshift memorial ballooned outside of Cup Foods, a store that many residents rely on to buy produce, cellphones or cigarettes, and where a store clerk had called 911 to report that Mr. Floyd had used a fake $20 bill, drawing Mr. Chauvin and other officers to the scene.

For nearly a year, the city has debated how to handle the memorial and blockade. Last year, officials renamed two blocks of Chicago Avenue around the intersection “George Perry Floyd Jr. Place.”

On Thursday, a representative of Cup Foods praised the city’s move to reopen the area to traffic.

“Businesses can once again thrive,” said Jamar Nelson, who has worked as a spokesman for Cup Foods since Mr. Floyd’s death. “Now, hopefully, a memorial can be put in place, to respect the Floyd family and the community.”

Danielle Fabunmi, 48, who lives about six blocks away from the intersection, stood in front of Cup Foods on Thursday and watched city workers dismantle the memorial. She said she felt the city had bowed to pressure from businesses and residents worried about crime.

“I kind of always knew that it wasn’t going to last, but I’m pretty hurt because there needs to be a reminder of what happened here,” Ms. Fabunmi said. “They’re really feeling that a lot of these memorials are kind of getting in the way of business, so that’s to be understood, but also, there’s something larger at hand.”

Ms. McKenzie, the city spokeswoman, said the changes would allow traffic to flow through the intersection again.

“We certainly acknowledge this intersection will never return to normal,” she said, “but we’ve heard from residents and businesses that really need to reconnect their neighborhood.”

The scene on Thursday was at times tense, with some activists yelling at city officials as they removed the barriers. “No justice, no streets!” one said. But later, the crowd grew more relaxed, with one activist handing out coffee and doughnuts. No uniformed police officers could be seen as the demolition took place.

Steve Floyd, an adviser to the Agape Movement, said the changes were important to move the city forward.

“We can focus on other things,” he said. “We got to keep moving.”

Matt Furber contributed reporting from Minneapolis. Christine Hauser also contributed reporting.

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