The Minneapolis police chief vowed Wednesday to restore safety in and around the closed-off intersection where protesters gather to memorialize George Floyd's death.
Police Chief Medaria Arradondo gave no timeline for the changes, though he said federal agents will help fight crime and monitor the area at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue, which has fallen under increased gun violence.
The intersection, now known as George Floyd Square, became a spot for mourning and reflection after Floyd died while being restrained by Minneapolis police last summer. City-erected concrete barricades that have kept the intersection closed to traffic are now being guarded by civilian occupiers often unwelcoming to law enforcement.
But violence disturbing the once-peaceful memorial has frustrated residents and business owners inside the square and surrounding it.
Arradondo said at a news conference that law enforcement will put an end to the criminal activity there.
"We cannot allow groups of individuals to feel that they're emboldened," Arradondo said. "They have to be held accountable. Period. … Yes, I'm putting them on notice. Enough's enough."
The announcement was met with mistrust from some at the square who had recently put out a plea for help, saying they are hesitant to believe change will come.
Arradondo said the best remedy is to reopen the intersection, but he did not specify when that would happen.
Though officials have been signaling their desire to reopen for months, they said recently that they would not reopen the area until after the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin, who is facing murder charges in Floyd's death.
The police chief indicated Wednesday that a reopening could come sooner.
"We will dictate that timing and not let the trial dictate that," he said.
Mayor Jacob Frey said in an interview that he is aligned with the chief about the need to evaluate the timeline for reopening the intersection. Before that can happen, Frey said, they must ensure safety for public works staff coming in to remove the barricades as well as figure out a way to memorialize Floyd in an ongoing fashion.
"We want to see some additional infrastructure added that would provide a bump-out at the location where George Floyd was killed, to prevent tires from ever rolling over that sacred ground again," Frey said.
Arradondo said law enforcement, including the FBI, will restore peace to the area using all legal resources and tools. There will be an increased police presence near the intersection, he said.
"As chief I refuse to abdicate one block, one city block, to a group of individuals who choose violence over peace," Arradondo said.
Federal law enforcement agencies including the FBI Minneapolis Field Office, the U.S. Attorney's Office District of Minnesota, and the ATF St. Paul Field Division pledged their support and resources, standing with the chief Wednesday afternoon.
Acting U.S. Attorney W. Anders Folk said the focus will be on bringing federal charges against those carrying or using firearms during robberies and carjackings, or while dealing drugs.
Folk said the community is gripped by fear.
"These are residents, these are business owners and these are faith leaders who are simply trying to make a living, to raise their families, to build up their community and to uphold this space that to so many has become a sacred memorial," Folk said. "They must be able to do this in peace."
Arradondo cited statistics to illustrate the area's increase in crime: In 2019, there were three victims of nonfatal gunshot wounds in the area of 38th and Chicago, he said. In 2020, that number rose to 18. And ShotSpotter detections also increased dramatically, from 33 rounds detected in 2019 to 700 last year.
Frey said the city has a fundamental responsibility and duty to provide safety and security for residents. The law enforcement initiative is just one component of a plan for the area that also includes community outreach, job training and violence interruption services.
Tasha Clemons, owner of Clemons Conscious Salon, which sits inside the barriers, said she is fine with the square staying as it is.
"For us it is just about justice and what the square wants. My clients will find their way in here," Clemons said, adding that it is nice to have people out in the square. "It almost feels like the square is a community."
Dwight Alexander, who owns the restaurant Smoke in the Pit, said the city has said time and time again that it was opening the intersection.
"They made a big, big mistake — the city, shutting it down," Alexander said. "I just can't get it out of my head, throwing the businesses to the wolves. They didn't come down and see what type of support we needed. With people harassing our delivery drivers and turning our people away from the gate, you know, making us suffer. … I'm going to be here, but it is a struggle right now."
Staff reporters Susan Du and Nicole Norfleet contributed to this report.