‘No Justice, No Streets’: 4 years after murder, George Floyd Square stands in protest

Published 8:39 pm Sunday, May 26, 2024

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By Josh Cobb, Ngoc Bui, Matthew Alvarez, Emily Reese and Emily Bright, Minnesota Public Radio News

Every morning, neighbors gather at the intersection of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in south Minneapolis. A daily ritual of protest and healing.

“No one’s free until all free and before I be a slave, you’ll be buried in my grave,” Raycurt Johnson recited on a recent Wednesday, three days before the anniversary of George Floyd’s murder at this very corner.

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Johnson was repeating the timeless lyrics of “Oh, Freedom,” a Negro spiritual closely associated with the enslavement of African people in the American South. “I’ll go home on my land, and I’ll be free.”

For the past three years, Johnson and other like-minded musicians who had the same idea of bringing music to what is now called George Floyd Square have been playing together weekly as Brass Solidarity, a group committed to being a voice for justice and Black liberation. And healing.

“I brought my instrument and actually started playing because it was such a gloomy atmosphere,” he said.

Healing is a common thread for the people who gather at George Floyd Square. Healing from the trauma of watching Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man be murdered at the hands of Minneapolis police on May 25, 2020.

Now, the pavement where Floyd was murdered has turned into a public memorial known as George Floyd Square. There you’ll see flowers, murals, a Say Their Names Cemetery, a raised fist sculpture and an old Speedway gas station that’s now known as “People’s Way.”

“Any given day, George Floyd Square feels like a memorial. It also, oddly enough, feels like a tourist destination,” said Marcia Howard, one the leaders of the protest.

“It’s a place of Black pain,” Andrew Hartin, a local neighbor said. “It’s a place of healing for some people — some people have a lot of trauma from the space that they need to heal from. But it’s also it’s a community. Being together feels like prayer in this space.”

Howard said people make pilgrimages from all over the globe to be at the intersection.

“So if you see coach buses, or groups of school schoolchildren, or just people’s nanas from Florida show up, you’ll see them hearing from community members about the struggle that we have in south Minneapolis — and in the state of Minnesota — with systemic oppression,” Howard said. “And [you’ll see] what we’re doing in order to foment change.”

George Floyd Square is believed to be the longest ongoing protest in America. People meet there at 8 in the morning and 7 at night every single day.

“We have been insistent that they cannot move a brick, move anything until the community’s voices were heard,” Howard said.

Howard and other community members said they have no plans on relinquishing the space to the city until their list of 24 demands are met, a list she said was compiled from extensive community outreach in the summer of 2020.

“Many of the demands have been met, but we have to say we’re moving at the pace of justice. It’s 24,” she said. “The ones that could be met locally, some of our politicians and community leaders have attempted to meet them. But there’s some larger lifts, like ending qualified immunity that we as a nation need to address. And so we are still here, and we still stand. We mean that. No justice, no streets.”

Minneapolis City Council Member Andrea Jenkins, who represents Ward 8, in south central Minneapolis, said the city has made strides.

“To be clear, the 24 demands have been overwhelmingly met. Except for two of the demands that are completely out of our control, one of which is to get rid of the head of the BCA. We can’t do that. And then the other is to end qualified immunity, which again, we can’t do that,” Jenkins said.

“We have totally transformed our approach to public safety by creating the opposite of community safety, which entails the police department, the fire department, 911, 311 and our Office of Neighborhood Safety. We have included behavioral Crisis Response Teams to be able to go out and deal with mental health crises, which has been, I would call it, successful. We’re creating this the new Public Safety Center that is based on recommendations that we received from the Harvard study. So I think we’re moving in the right direction,” she said.

Now the city is rolling out a new strategy to gain community input on the future of George Floyd Square and racial healing efforts to address the traumatic past of the south Minneapolis intersection.

“I acknowledge that we as the City of Minneapolis are responsible for the murder of George Floyd,” said Alexander Kado, who works in the city’s Office of Public Service and oversees projects related to George Floyd Square. “Our government in general has done a lot of really racist things to our communities of color. And that’ll never be undone. But I know that we as a city, as we move forward with this work, are trying to right some of those wrongs and move forward in a way that acknowledges those past harms and works to correct them to projects like this.”

Kado said the city is open and actively getting input from community to develop a plan for the future of the site. Their next public hearing is scheduled in late June.

“You have some people that want things to just go back to normal. And I think that that’s probably impossible, there is no normalcy anymore,” said Michael McQuarrie, a sociology professor at Arizona State University who studies social movements. “That community was pretty traumatized by those events, and the events that followed.”

McQuarrie also said this occupied protest is something he has never seen before.

“What we really saw in 2020, was that protest has become a lot less of a right and something that you can do if you’re willing to face significant consequences,” he said. “If it’s a right, you shouldn’t have to face consequences for engaging in it. And what’s really happened over the last 20 years is the protest has become increasingly criminalized, including in Minneapolis. And so it’s much less of a right than it once was. And the consequences have become quite escalatory, on the part of police.”

As many around the globe take the time to reflect on and honor the life of George Floyd on the fourth anniversary of his death, Howard wants people to not lose sight of the realities of the relationship between law enforcement and communities of color.

“What this system tends to do is to swing back into complacency and status quo and what they can get away with,” Howard said. “Thinking that we’ve somehow reached a point where we can say, ‘We did it, Minneapolis.’ No, no. Not at all. We have a street of names by a young artist, and she wrote the names of all the dead from systemic violence. Do you know that if we were to add the names of the people who have died by police violence since George Floyd, we would probably have to go another full block? So no, we’re not where we need to be. Not by a longshot.”