On June 3, public officials in Minneapolis attempted to arrange the eviction of George Floyd Square, the autonomous zone at the place where Minneapolis police murdered George Floyd in May 2020. In hope of dividing the coalition that has maintained the Square from its support base, they worked with a local group named Agape. However, this effort failed, setting an important precedent in resisting co-optation and repression for movements around the United States.
As we reported in April,
Since 2020, opponents of police violence have maintained an autonomous zone at George Floyd Square. In the days following the murder of George Floyd, people erected a wooden sculpture of a raised fist in the square, when that square was arguably the focal point of the resistance. Since then, the George Floyd Square Autonomous Zone has been defended by the community and other groups as a space for organizing locally and throughout Minnesota. Community defenders of the George Floyd Square Autonomous Zone brought the sculpture of the fist to the vigil in memory of Daunte Wright, representing collective defense of all Black lives and defiance of the system that takes them.
For a year, the George Floyd Square Autonomous Zone has served as one of the beating hearts of resistance in Minneapolis. Various militant groups including anti-fascists, anarchists, radical Indigenous people who organize against Line 3, people organizing against borders and deportations, and powerful Black women from the organization Meet on the Street signed on to the 24 points, the goals of George Floyd Square. Published in August 2020, this document outlines 24 demands, the last of which is “Continue the closure of the intersection of 38th Street East and Chicago Avenue South until after trial of the four officers charged for the murder of George Floyd.” Most of these demands have yet to be met.
George Floyd Square is arguably the only autonomous zone arising from the George Floyd revolt to have survived into 2021. Every day begins with morning meetings. The square is organized via direct democracy, affirming autonomous principals. Food is served all day every day to everyone. It is a cop-free space, with all that that means for the homeless and the BIPOC community. Many different movements hold their meetings here.
On June 3, 2021, two Minneapolis city council members, Andrea Jenkins and Alondra Cano, along with mayor Jacob Frey and police chief Medaria Arradondo, attempted to arrange the demolition of the autonomous zone that has existed at George Floyd Square since May 2020. By working with the Agape “violence interrupters” also known as MinneapolUs, they sought to frame their actions as “community supported.” MinneapolUs is a African-American-male-led organization involving former prisoners and those on probation that is empowered by the city to patrol the streets to prevent street crime. However, they have often been deployed against radical abolitionists, most recently at the demonstrations in response to the murder of Duante Wright, at which they provided cover to the cops by helping to surround young protesters and trying to intimidate them into going home. This is a classic divide-and-conquer strategy: use one part of the working class to oppress another part of the working class.
Arriving at 5 am, MinneapolUs and city workers armed with earth movers began removing the concrete barricades and demolishing the garden in an attempt to remove the sculpture of the raised fist. Community defenders quickly responded, gathering to defend the George Floyd Square Autonomous Zone. Jay the gardener, who made the gardens and helped make the fist, was there almost immediately, confronting the city workers and MinneapolUs occupiers along with several BIPOC women square defenders.
“I put a chain on the fist and they didn’t know how to get it off. It took ten dudes to remove what one man had done!” Jay recounted later, at the rally. “I was on my phone immediately with [city council member] Cano and she told me that she would do anything for me and that my garden’s not going anywhere!” Jay described his interactions over the afternoon dividing the city council and helping to confuse their resolve. “Agape is out here and I came at them with love cuz nobody is going to bring that fist down, I mean nobody!” In spite of a scuffle or two, community defenders lead the stand off with MinneapolUs, retaking the space and the narrative.
“The city killed George Floyd for $20! You know what we get for $20? We get this land!” Jay expressed the resolve of the community defenders. “This is our land now, for all the people the city has murdered—and we aren’t giving it back!”
At 11 am, the mayor’s office made a press release pausing the actions of the supposed “community leaders” MinneapolUs in “reopening” the square and “honoring the memory of George Floyd,” while praising Agape MinneapolUs as a “community-led public safety effort.” The press released did not mention that Minneapolis police had set up a perimeter of SWAT vans all around the square, or that Agape has received a $25,000 grant from the city with an additional “up to $359,000” promised if they can “reopen” the square. This is clearly an attempt to legitimize the city’s authority and provide cover to the Minneapolis Police Department as its officers steadily continue committing murder.
Shortly after 2 pm, US Marshals shot and killed Winston Boogie Smith Jr., a 32-year-old Black father, near George Floyd Square at the intersection of Fremont and Lake streets. Wanted on suspicion of illegal possession of a firearm, Winston Smith was surrounded by seven unmarked cars and was shot before he had a chance to exit his vehicle. Mercenaries were also present at the scene of this shooting from the sheriff’s offices of Hennepin, Anoka and Ramsey counties, the Minnesota Department of Corrections, and the Department of Homeland Security. This tragedy underscores the fact that representatives of the state continue to murder Black men consistently and with impunity, despite the conviction of the officer who murdered George Floyd; it also illustrates the wide range of different institutions involved in this.
In response to the raid, BIPOC women from Meet on the Street made a public call for a gathering at 5:30 pm. In response, hundreds of community members gathered at the George Floyd Square autonomous zone. BIPOC women, young people, queer folks, Natives, lantinx southsiders, and others from every part of the community responded to this attempt to reassert state control of the area. Longtime square defenders including Janelle and many others challenged the narrative that MinneapolUs was anti-racist and standing for George Floyd and the community.
“You say you’re for the community, you say you’re for George Floyd, I’m just not feeling that right now. I mean, how are you going to come in here and tear all this down, saying you’re here for George Floyd! The city is showing us right now that they don’t care about Black people!” Janelle passionately stated to the Agape MinneapolUs would be occupiers. “This isn’t over, a conviction isn’t enough! We need our Black men, we need our Black men to have opportunities, we need our Black men not to be killed out here! They just killed another one of us today! This ain’t over, we aren’t leaving!” Jannelle also spoke about the shooting on Fremont and Lake earlier that afternoon.
The fist and the black flag waving over the square remained. The garden was still green. Agape and the city had failed to seize the space and they had failed to co-opt the narrative. The last speaker at the rally was a leader of the Agape MinneapolUs crew that had tried to take the square.
“We, I learned a lot today. I learned a lot about love, because Agape is about love. We didn’t mean to… you know, we stand with the community and we are going home. What you all are doing out here is about love and that’s all we’re about, so we support you.”
After securing the square, hundreds of people took to the streets, marching towards Fremont and Lake where US Marshals had just carried out their latest killing. People looted about a dozen shops and the intersection of Fremont and set a fire at the intersection of Fremont and Lake Street. Clashing with police, chanting “All cops are Nazis!” and “No justice, no streets,” young people rekindled the spark of the Minneapolis uprising. Minneapolis police eventually retook the area, making approximately a dozen arrests.
The model in which city officials establish a financial relationship with an organization like Agape that can present itself as the face of the movement is a tried-and-true method for co-optation and counterinsurgency. Such patron-client relationships are often an essential part of the process through which social movements are channeled into perpetuating the prevailing order and the spaces of encounter that they open up are shut down.
In this case, however, other BIPOC participants in the movement were able to outflank the organization that had taken the side of city officials. Specifically, the courage of women owning their power and refusing to back down trumped macho aggression from all sides. Janelle, Marcia Howard, and other square defenders have demonstrated how important it is for movements to maintain their autonomy from all state and financial institutions.
Consequently, George Floyd Square still exists. There was an assembly there this morning, as on every previous morning. The barricades are up around the liberated zone. The message is loud and clear: the city did not win. They are not getting the square back until a real change happens. The struggle continues.