George Floyd Square Autonomous Zone Survives an Eviction Attempt


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 on May 25, 2020. In hope of dividing the coalition that has maintained the Square from its support base, they worked with a local organization named Agape Movement. However, this effort failed, setting an important precedent for resisting co-optation and repression for movements around the so-called 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. At the same time, there have been ongoing attempts from within to subvert its potential as a cop-free zone. Various militant groups including anti-fascists, anarchists, Indigenous water protectors fighting Line 3, people organizing against borders and deportations, and local Black militants have utilized the space. Some of the residents and defenders who are more invested in reforms have been pushing “Justice Resolution 001,” a list of 24 demands, the last of which reads:

“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, and few relate directly to police abolition. Parts of the resolution reinforce the post-uprising trend of non-state organizations taking on policing duties. One passage commends the city-funded Agape group: “Whereas, Agape has provided safety for the community in George Floyd Square in absence of MPD presence.” Demand #18 calls for the city government to “Provide Agape Movement a space for their operations within the George Floyd Square Zone.”

The involvement of collaborationist organizations like Agape has been one of the main tensions impacting the Square’s “community of communities.” Radical youth-led factions have consistently opposed efforts to smooth the way for “community”-branded counterinsurgency.

George Floyd Square is arguably the only autonomous zone arising from the George Floyd uprising to have survived into 2021. Every day begins with morning meetings. Some decisions are made via direct democracy; much of the activity in the square depends on the participation and free association of residents and outside supporters. The distribution of food and other resources according to the principles of mutual aid takes place regularly. Many different movements hold their meetings here.

On June 3, 2021, Minneapolis city council members Andrea Jenkins and Alondra Cano, 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. They sought to frame their actions as “community supported” by working with the Agape Movement “violence interrupters” (a group affiliated with the city-funded umbrella initiative MinneapolUS). Agape is a Black-male-led organization, comprised primarily of formerly incarcerated gang members connected with the local Bloods. They have been deputized by the city to patrol the streets to “prevent” street crime. However, they have often been deployed against radical abolitionists and militant Black and brown youth, both within the Square itself and at multiple actions across the city.

Last fall saw brief riots in downtown Minneapolis and youth-led marches on the 5th Precinct. Agape worked alongside the police during both. The fallout from that has ruptured the sense of collective struggle and solidarity at George Floyd Square, fracturing the uneasy alliance between reform-minded activists, local home-owners and property-owners, and radical youth collectives. Now the contradiction of an autonomous zone hosting a state-funded organization has become clear. During the April demonstrations in response to the murder of Daunte Wright, the Minnesota Freedom Fighters—a group similar to Agape that has occasionally been present at the Square in a “security” capacity—was exposed for doing the cops’ job for them. Employing older Black men to surround and intimidate young, predominantly BIPoC militants has become a standard practice. This is a classic divide-and-conquer strategy: use one part of the working class to oppress another part of the working class.

Arriving between 4:30 and 5 am, MinneapolUS and city workers armed with earth movers began removing the concrete barricades around the Square and spread out throughout the area to identify and defuse any resistance. Later, they began demolishing the garden and removing the sheds; at one point, they asked if they could rotate the greenhouse to get more road. Those who have been holding space frequently in the Square, including neighbors who support the continued road closure, began to confront, record, and address the city workers and the “community-led organization” escorting them in. Many of these folks had heard about the impending upheaval and had been holding space regularly there through the night. They were indignant but not confrontational, telling the workers and those representing MinneapolUS that they didn’t care about the barricade structures, since those belong to the city.

At some point, workers began to impound the sheds and conflict began to escalate. Still, the people present, many of whom were women, and a small crew of resistors, some of whom attached themselves to the roundabout fixtures, did not physically stand in the way of the workers.

City workers left the bump-out section largely untouched, as they eventually moved the barricades to surround the greenhouse and the site of Floyd’s death, making it impossible to enter the memorial from Chicago Ave on foot except by crossing over them. Starting in the early morning, a nearly all-white-and-male crew of city workers began to take the offerings from the roundabout and gently put them in boxes; as appalled onlookers repeated “that shit ain’t yours,” the workers repeated that the offerings would be treated carefully and deposited across the street. Suddenly, they brought out several planters and welding equipment it became clear that they aimed to “shrink” the roundabout around the fist to allow “the free passage of traffic.”

They began moving the cinder blocks and prepared to uproot the garden. At this moment, a truck pulled into the square driven by Jay the Gardener, a frequent contributor to the space with a green thumb. He entered the garden that he has been taking care of for months and took a stand against its destruction. It is unclear whether there was any physical confrontation; regardless, the city workers ceased further attempts to reduce the roundabout.

“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 that evening. “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, barricades being destroyed and rebuilt, and persistent tensions throughout the day, community defenders led the standoff with MinneapolUS, ultimately retaking the space.

“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!”

Square defender Jay established the garden around the fist; he was one of the first people to respond to oppose the city’s dawn raid on the space.

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 release 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 state forces 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 who hold space at the square 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. Jeanelle, Marcia Howard, and many others challenged the narrative that MinneapolUS was anti-racist and standing for George Floyd and the community.

Janelle, another square defender, made a defiant speech to the city and its employees, sounding off about how little the city cares for Black people. She recognized square defenders of all colors, giving shoutouts to many people from around the neighborhood.

“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!” Jeanelle 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!” Jeanelle also spoke about the shooting around Girard and Lake earlier that afternoon.

The fist and the Pan-African flag waving over the square remained. The garden was still green. The city had failed to seize the space, they had failed to co-opt the narrative—even by paying off Black “community members.” The last speaker at the rally was a leader of the Agape MinneapolUS crew that had tried to take the square.

“Well, 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 Girard 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 Girard and Lake Street. Clashing with police, chanting “Winston Smith, say his name,” “All cops are Nazis!” and “No justice, no streets,” young people rekindled the spark of the Minneapolis uprising. At one point, someone yelled “Are there any good cops?” and without prompting, the crowd answered with a resounding “no!” Minneapolis police eventually recaptured 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 back into perpetuating the prevailing order. Consequently, the spaces of confrontation that the movement opened up are craftily shut down—not by a violent raid, but by a snazzy non-profit that interfaces with the community on behalf of capitalists. The Non-Profit Industrial Complex effectively lures people, including BIPOC folks who are potential rebels, into salaried jobs that offer individual material security at the expense of the risks of pursuing collective liberation.

It can be easiest to identify outright collaboration when there is a flow of money. Sometimes, those who grab the mic and lead the chants are navigating their day-to-day lives through a career-oriented lens, in their choice to commit to the Non-Profit Industrial Complex, which reinforces state power. It is our responsibility to recognize when people who utilize community-oriented language are doing so as a means of employing soft state power. It is up to us to look at their actions and where they make their money.

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 misogynistic aggression from all sides. The square defenders—in spite of the many contradictions that led to the raid—have demonstrated how important it is for movements to maintain autonomy from all state and financial institutions. A principled collective opposition to collaborationism must be at the forefront of every fight for freedom.

Thanks to their brave efforts, George Floyd Square still exists. There was an assembly there this morning, as on every previous morning. The barricades are back up around the liberated zone. But the barricades do not make the zone—the community does. Originally, the barricades were comprised of repurposed dumpsters and the cars of militants, not barriers provided by the city. No matter how many times the city pays its detractors to remove them, the people of Minneapolis will rise to the occasion of keeping George Floyd Square closed until justice arrives—on our terms.

The struggle continues.