Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.
The online documents laying out the goals and parameters of the effort to redesign the intersection now known as George Floyd Square in Minneapolis make this point clearly: The result is to be a reorganized intersection, not a memorial. The quest for a fitting memorial will come later.
Yes. But if the project were only about streets and sidewalks, it would not provoke the interest this effort is attracting. Whatever the outcome of this exercise in urban redesign, it must pay respect to what happened there — a police murder that likely will live in the national memory long after we who actually remember it have passed away.
"THIS IS A SACRED SPACE," declares a sign propped at the spot where then-Officer Derek Chauvin knelt for those interminable minutes on George Floyd's neck. Like most of the signs and placards clustered in the square, this one is roughly rendered, painted in drippy letters. There is similar writing everywhere. On cardboard, concrete, slabs of wood, walls of buildings, people have inscribed slogans, biblical quotes, calls to action, demands for justice and names.
Especially names. Most are of Black people killed in encounters with police. Some are as vividly legible as the day they were painted. Others have faded. Many — perhaps hundreds? — appear embedded in the asphalt of the street. Some are familiar — George Floyd, of course, but also Amir Locke and Winston Smith. Others are less so — Malissa Williams, Hardel Sherrell, Aiyana Stanley-Jones. They give expression to the same impulse as the nearby installation called "Say Their Names Cemetery": that these people deserved to be known, that their lives mattered, and so did their deaths.
Front and center in that installation stands the symbolic headstone of Floyd, whose death about a block away focused the world's attention on 38th and Chicago. Some degree of commerce has resumed there; customers come and go from Cup Foods, the store where Floyd allegedly passed a counterfeit $20 bill. But the intersection's chief occupation now is as the focal point of a social movement. It does no disrespect to Floyd to observe that the significance of George Floyd Square goes well beyond the murder of one man.
Just how the planners in the Minneapolis Public Works Department should go about acknowledging that significance is a deeply fraught question. They rightly have to consider the usual factors, like traffic flow and emergency vehicle access, plus the extraordinary elements of cultural significance and historic preservation, as well as the need to fully engage the community of neighbors and protesters in the process of design.
A participant in a virtual community meeting gave an indication Tuesday of just how jarring the engagement process could become. If you rip up the sidewalk and asphalt where Floyd died, came the question, isn't that like stripping the sheets from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s bed at the Lorraine Motel? One of the project managers, Alexander Kado, replied that maybe it would be necessary to leave that part of the street alone.
Even so, there's approximately zero chance that the eventual solution will please all sides. About the best to be hoped for is that people will have felt their voices heard and their views taken into account — but even that minimal standard has already been undercut by some who say there's a secret design plan in place.
We look forward to the eventual decision on a formal memorial to Floyd. We hope that it somehow preserves the grassroots spirit of the current George Floyd Square — the artwork, the giant fist and above all the names. Perhaps there is inspiration to be found in the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
The Floyd memorial, though, seems to be a long way off. In the near term, George Floyd Square functions as a living memorial. We trust the city planners recognize their responsibility to keep that function intact.