The Potluck

Documents show city strategized for months on George Floyd Square reopening

By: - August 11, 2021 2:32 pm

City workers set up traffic signs and bike lanes for the reopening of George Floyd Square to traffic. The iconic fist statue was set to go in the middle of a traffic roundabout. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

Mayor Jacob Frey said in June that the reopening of George Floyd Square was community-led, in coordination with a nonprofit group called Agape Movement. But documents obtained by the Reformer through a public records request show the effort was tightly choreographed by city officials over several months.  

On June 3, the day of the first attempt at reopening, city officials said the operation was led by Agape, a street outreach group that includes former gang members. On that day, Agape co-founder Steve Floyd said his group had approached the city with a plan for reopening the intersection, and had coordinated with the city but was not being directed by the mayor’s office.

A joint statement released that day by Frey and City Council Members Andrea Jenkins and Alondra Cano said in part, “The Agape Movement brought together community leadership to begin facilitating the phased reconnection this morning, with the city playing a supportive role.”

The documents released to the Reformer tell another story, with city officials playing the leading role. Numerous emails show a group of city leaders planning the operation, “internal media preps” for the mayor and extensive involvement by Jenkins.

A March 16 “working draft, not for public release” called for one week’s advance notice of the reopening to the community, organizers and caretakers so people could plan ahead and move vehicles. It also planned on the Minneapolis Police Department’s involvement to make traffic control changes.

A May 4 “draft 38th and Chicago Reconnection Plan” cited three guiding principles as the city embarked on a reopening: community safety; racial healing; and economic stability and development for Black, Indigenous, Latino, Asian and other communities of color.

At that point, the city was aiming to begin the reopening in mid-May.

The plan called for reclaiming, securing and reopening the intersection “as a city-run and regulated area” within 24 hours. The city planned to remove barriers and secure entry points “with law enforcement presence” that would include the Minneapolis Police Department, state troopers, sheriff’s deputies and Metro Transit officers “to hold and maintain the space.” 

When the operation ultimately proceeded, MPD officers were stationed blocks away in riot gear. Uniformed officers never entered the square. Protesters in the square kept a watchful eye out for police as city workers reopened the intersection, but didn’t impede their work until they left.

But just one month earlier, the draft plan was to have the Department of Public Works and MPD “co-lead” the initiative. City documents show there was a separate “MPD initiative” at one point, although by late April, organizers had decided not to integrate it into the overall plan.

The plan was drafted the same month the City Council approved $2.2 million in contracts with community organizations to operate teams of street-based outreach workers and “violence interrupters” as part of the city’s “MinneapolUS Strategic Outreach Initiative.”

The documents also include an email from City Coordinator Mark Ruff to City Council members sent at 11 a.m. on June 3 — about seven hours into the operation and after extensive media coverage of it — notifying them the “community-led reopening” was underway. Frey’s administration and the City Council have been feuding for more than a year over control of the Police Department and other key issues. 

The council would later accuse Frey of misusing his pandemic emergency powers to approve a $359,000 contract with Agape Movement to help reopen the square.

Asked whether it was accurate to say Agape led the operation, given the documents laying out extensive city planning, city spokeswoman Sarah McKenzie reiterated in an email, “Agape led the reconnection effort June 3 in partnership with the City.”

The effort to open the square in early June was widely regarded as a failure, as activists brought back barricades and again closed the intersection.

Within weeks, however, the square slowly reopened to traffic and transit. Many people still make pilgrimages to the square, which is now an important marker in the nation’s civil rights history.

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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.