Two women had to hit the sidewalk as gunshots popped off during the day outside Finish Touch Boutique, a store near the south barricade of George Floyd Square, shop owner Willie Frazier said. Frazier’s car was stolen from the square recently, too, he said, and it later turned up at the impound lot with the hood smashed.
Now Frazier is sending a distress call along with other Black business owners whose shops and restaurants have been cut off from the outside world by concrete barricades guarded by civilian gatekeepers surrounding 38th Street and Chicago Avenue. As violence disrupts the once-peaceful memorial where Floyd died during an encounter with Minneapolis police, the business owners said they felt abandoned by a city that has failed to protect their safety and livelihoods.
“Last year when it first started, it was all about George [Floyd]. People came from all over the world,” Frazier said. “We didn’t know when it was closed that it would be closed this long. … And when everybody in town found out that it was locked down like this … nobody wanted to come here and risk this stuff, and I don’t blame them.”
City Council Member Alondra Cano pushed for reopening the intersection before the first snowfall.
“I get to hear from all the people no one wants to listen to,” she said. “I get to hear from the Black elderly woman who has to sleep in her bathtub so she can avoid being shot at night. I get to hear from the other Black elderly woman who has chronic pain and can’t access the bus and therefore can’t go grocery shopping, and I get to hear from the residents who text me when there’s bullets zinging by their faces in the middle of the day as they’re gardening.”
After bystander video of then-police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck went viral, the city installed concrete barriers to prevent cars from colliding with mourners. The area evolved into a protest zone, and committed activists have guarded the barricades ever since while taking care of the Floyd memorial in front of the Cup Foods convenience store.
George Floyd Square has drawn well-wishers from all over the world. But trouble hasn’t left the area.
“This was Bloods territory,” said Pastor Curtis Farrar of Worldwide Outreach for Christ, which sits across the intersection. “A lot of the gangs are right over there now. A lot of people that go to this church used to be in that gang, drug dealers and all of that.”
Police can and sometimes do access the square, but protesters there do not welcome them. Agape, a peacekeeping force whose staff includes ex-gang members from the neighborhood, is on contract with the city to keep watch over the area.
On March 6, two people were shot there, and 30-year-old Imez Wright, a mentor for Black youth in St. Paul, was killed.
“I know that may be difficult for some people who have been holding space in there since last year, but we have to open up that intersection,” pleaded Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, who grew up blocks away from 38th and Chicago, at a subsequent news conference.
Protesters temporarily closed George Floyd Square for mourning despite its tendency to serve as a community gathering space through the Chauvin trial. Business owners and residents say tensions on the block remain high with sporadic gunshots.
“I am afraid. I am frustrated. I am mentally ill right now,” said Dwight Alexander through the takeout window of Smoke in the Pit, jabbing his temples with the tips of his index fingers for emphasis. “I have to set my mind every day to come up here and try and make a way for my family, and [the city] took away my rights, they took away my finances. How do you think I feel? Put yourself in my shoes or my family’s shoes.”
At 58, he is one of the eldest business owners on the block, with 11 grandchildren and a great-grandchild on the way. Lest anyone be confused about his position on the barricades, last summer Alexander commissioned a mural across the front of his barbecue shop reading, “In times of crisis, the wise build bridges while the foolish build barriers,” from the movie “Black Panther.”
“We just need these streets to open, we need police in this area,” said Just Turkey owner Sam Willis Jr. “This is like Mexico in the United States. Thirty-seventh Street is the United States. You come out here, it’s like Mexico. So a person can commit a crime on 37th Street, and if they run over here, the police are not going to come. They park stolen cars here.”
The occupying protesters open the barricades for delivery drivers and want the city to “establish a contingency fund for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color businesses located in George Floyd Square” as one of their 24 demands for ceding the street.
Still, business owners complain the protesters don’t order enough, and some make unilateral decisions to jettison outsiders.
City officials recently announced they will not attempt to reopen the intersection during the Chauvin trial. But Mayor Jacob Frey is asking residents to weigh in on designs for a permanent memorial that will stand off to the side of two-way traffic with restored public transit.
The Black business owners at the intersection have received no direct assistance from the city to offset the impact of officials’ decisions. They started a GoFundMe and threatened to sue the state for taking their tax dollars without providing basic services.
Some unexpected relief came Friday when Floyd’s family announced they had reached a $27 million wrongful death settlement with the city. They will dedicate $500,000 to 38th and Chicago so that Black-owned businesses can “not only survive, but … thrive,” said the family’s lawyer, Ben Crump, who challenged others to match the donation.
Members of Floyd’s family, Council Member Andrea Jenkins and a throng of onlookers visited Floyd’s memorial Friday evening. Floyd’s brothers knelt at the spot where he spoke his last words, then visited each Black-owned business in turn.
Rashad West opened Dragon Wok at the start of the pandemic, but COVID-19 has been the least of his problems, he said. The last time people dined in, there was a shooting outside and people had to dive under tables.
He has said he felt like a “sacrificial lamb” to the impasse at 38th and Chicago, with his path to generational wealth blocked off.
“It’s been a long year. We’ve been through a lot. I’m sorry for your loss,” an emotional West told the Floyd family on Friday. “We’re here to stay. We want to let you know we’re not going anywhere. We’re going to be here as long as we can.”
“Help is on the way,” vowed Jenkins.
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