Parts of the memorial space constructed at the south Minneapolis intersection where George Floyd was murdered by a white police officer were removed by work crews on Thursday morning.
The city confirmed to the Guardian that barricades had been taken down to allow the intersection to be reopened to traffic, as reporters on the ground confirmed the presence of a large group of workers early in the morning. The deconstruction work appeared to have ceased within a few hours.
Floyd, 46, was killed by white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in May 2020. Shortly after the incident community members turned the intersection where Floyd took his last breaths into a public mourning space, named George Floyd Square. The space, which became a de facto autonomous zone in which city police stayed away, features community art, sculptures and often hosts performances and protests.
In an email, city spokeswoman Sarah McKenzie described the work as a “community-led reconnection process with city supporting efforts”. She added that more information on the work would be forthcoming, and that “artworks and memorials to George Floyd” would be preserved.
In April, former officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of second-degree murder over Floyd’s death, and city leaders renewed efforts to reopen the intersection, which had become a focal point throughout the murder trial. The city’s mayor, Jacob Frey, said in May that after the anniversary of Floyd’s death he would back a “phased reopening” of the intersection.
In September last year the city council voted unanimously to rename the intersection after George Floyd, but the space’s long-term future had become a source of local tension with some activists arguing it should remain an “autonomous zone” indefinitely, while others pointing to an increase in violent crime in the area.
Earlier this year the city announced plans to create a permanent memorial space at the intersection that would preserve the artworks and a community greenhouse and unveiled a number of interim design options.
The city stated in February that 81% of local residents and workers supported the design plans and added that the Floyd Family Foundation was involved in planning efforts.
In March, Minneapolis settled a record $27m civil lawsuit with the Floyd family, which included a $500,000 donation to the community around the intersection.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported on Thursday that the city would hold a media briefing later in the morning to explain how the decision was made to commence the clearing efforts.