Neighbors, feeling bullied, want activists to leave George Floyd Square

By: - May 26, 2021 6:00 am

Candle votives made of ice light the memorial at George Floyd Square Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021. Photo by Nicole Neri/Minnesota Reformer.

A year after the murder of George Floyd, some residents who live near the four-block area now graced by his name want the people running the autonomous zone to remove the barricades and leave. They say people in the neighborhood have been shot at, robbed, carjacked, threatened with deadly weapons and sexually harassed.

“This is our home. It does not belong to the world. It does not belong to anyone,” Amina Harper said on Instagram. “We live here and we deserve to be safe while we live here because most of us cannot afford to live anywhere else.”

After being invited by a leader of the square to Tuesday events marking the one-year anniversary of Floyd’s killing, artists Harper and Tori Hong responded publicly with lengthy social media retorts about the group running the square, Meet on the Street. 

“Those barricades and that fist need to be removed so we can rebuild toward something that actually involves community, instead of a bunch of invaders who only want a stage to perform on and a means to gain political and social capital,” Harper wrote.

Hours before a street festival was to begin Tuesday, some 30 gunshots rang out near the intersection as reporters were covering the anniversary, with some recording the gunfire live. Police said one person later showed up at a hospital with gunshot wounds.

Harper said that’s what it’s been like living near the square for the past year.

“The gunshots themselves already prove my point,” she said.

Three Meet on the Street leaders did not respond to a request for comment, but they have said they won’t leave “the zone” until a long list of demands are met, including $156 million in investments in the neighborhood over a decade.

Marcia Howard, a high school teacher and one of the main organizers of Meet on the Street, told the Reformer last year that she will resist any city encroachment: “I am here for the safety of my community. And I’m standing my ground. They’re going to have to kill me.”

In her telling, she’s been given no choice: “It’s not my fault that they did this 270 steps from my house — that they killed a Black man.”

The conflict about the square’s future — which was evident to neighbors but largely submerged for months — has broken out into the open, complicated by the return of summer temperatures and rising violent crime. The Bloods gang is known to be active in the area, including providing “security” for the square. 

Amid the tension, city officials have said they will remove the barricades and reopen the street and bus service, although they have not said when. 

Harper, an artist and writer who has lived near the square for nearly 20 years, wrote on Instagram that Floyd was murdered by people who were supposed to protect and serve communities like hers, and then afterward, people who claim they want to protect and serve the neighborhood showed up and “use his name to further selfish agendas that cause more death in the same place George Floyd died.”

She said people in the square have harmed Black people who came to pay respects to Floyd, Black immigrants who live in the neighborhood, Black-owned businesses and homes.

“I’m just sick of my neighborhood being in the crossfire of its failings,” Harper wrote. “They never cared about us, it was all about using our neighborhood as a combination stage/group therapy session.”

Harper said the people occupying the intersection of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue are “colonizers by way of their class and access” who prioritize personal and political agendas over community.

“Time and again, they chose to make endless TikToks and (Instagram) posts espousing how wonderful the square is, as opposed to meaningfully engaging with, listening to and supporting the neighborhood. Their time for showboating is up.”

She said many neighbors are scared to speak out.

“There is no love for any of you in this community anymore” because those holding space in the zone have been “hostile, unwelcoming and downright cruel,” she said.

Artist Hayden Minh lives near the square and also does not want Meet on the Street there anymore, and has tried to talk to them about his concerns. 

Tori Hong, an artist who also lives near the square, said Black and Asian visitors have been verbally and physically intimidated by the gatekeepers of the square, with a report of a gun being flashed and “verbal intimidation” of a Black person trying to pay their respects. 

Hong wrote that after someone tried to rob her and she helped a carjacking victim, she joined a neighborhood group chat run by people controlling the square that was created for safety communication, but after speaking out against them, they removed her from the chat, and then deleted the chat.

“They cannot keep occupying, silencing, gaslighting and harming our neighborhood — a largely poor, working class, Black, brown, immigrant, queer and trans neighborhood,” she wrote. “It’s time for them to get the f*** out. Now.”

Howard has said Meet on the Street is about community, telling the Reformer last year “it’s a community before it’s anything else. We maintain community — we forged it and sustain it through holding space, and feeding people and being here. I think we are providing a model for the city, let alone the country, of what it looks like when we put community first. It’s the community that brings a semblance of safety, and justice would guarantee it.”

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Deena Winter
Deena Winter

Deena Winter has covered local and state government in four states over the past three decades, with stints at the Bismarck Tribune in North Dakota, as a correspondent for the Denver Post, city hall reporter in Lincoln, Nebraska, and regional editor for Southwest News in the western Minneapolis suburbs.