George Floyd Square in Minneapolis is well-known as a gathering place to honor the man who was murdered by a police officer and as a symbol of racial healing, justice and reconciliation.
Visitors from all over the nation and even the world have come to bring memorials of various kinds and stand near where Floyd lost his life just over a year ago under the knee of former officer Derek Chauvin.
At the same time, the area at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue now held in such reverence but also closed to traffic had been a busy thoroughfare that provided essential access to businesses, transit, city services and the surrounding neighborhood.
And, as Mayor Jacob Frey has pointed out, access is the law, meaning that the city is required to provide it for businesses and residents. That’s a key reason why the intersection should reopen with some type of memorial still standing in the area.
In our view, both goals are possible despite the efforts of some community activists to permanently keep those blocks cut off to traffic as a memorial site. Twice in the last week or so, the community group Agape and the city have tried to respectfully clear the area for the return of traffic, only to see protesters put makeshift barriers back up.
That back-and-forth conflict cannot go on forever. The decision to reopen should prevail.
The access arguments are supported by at least two polls of those most affected. City surveys of area residents found strong support for reopening the area to traffic and for creating a permanent memorial. In one, 65% of respondents said they supported reopening the intersection in some form; about 19% said they believed the area should remain closed indefinitely.
Residents are also concerned about safety as the area has been especially hard hit by rising crime rates. Many neighbors worry that the area is almost a “no go” zone for law enforcement. As an example, gunshots rang out near the intersection on May 25 of this year, just as memorial activities were about to begin at the site.
Following dozens of meetings with citizens and businesses in the area, city officials rightly concluded that the intersection should be reopened. In a statement last week, Frey, City Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins and City Council Member Alondra Cano (whose wards meet at the site) said:
“The city’s three guiding principles for the reconnection of 38th and Chicago have been community safety, racial healing and economic stability and development for Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian and other communities of color.
“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.”
In that spirit, the city has two possible plans for reopening on its website that both call for some level of traffic. One leaves the now-iconic fist sculpture in the middle of the intersection with a roundabout, while the other shows a relocated fist sculpture and a small memorial on the sidewalk at the intersection. And the city and community partners have committed to a separate plan to find a permanent home for a memorial that would include some of the artwork from the site.
Both are reasonable possibilities that respect the need for a place of remembrance and the need for community safety and commerce.