Following recent murder, police chief says autonomous zone ‘must be reopened,’ but won’t say when

Arradondo noted that ShotSpotter activations had increased over 2500% in the area of 38th and Chicago from 2019 to 2020.

Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo and federal law enforcement partners hold a press conference Wednesday afternoon. (Operation Safety Net/YouTube)

In just the last few days, there has been a gang-related murder, and a woman was allegedly sexually and physically assaulted in separate incidents in the area known as “George Floyd Square” in Minneapolis.

The area where George Floyd died while in police custody last May has become known as an “autonomous zone” or “no-go zone” after having been taken over by militant activists shortly after Floyd’s death.

Police say they have been met with resistance while trying to respond to incidents within the four-block area immediately surrounding the intersection of East 38th Street and Chicago Avenue South.

The activists controlling the area, backed by National Lawyers Guild of Minnesota, have a list of 24 demands which they say must be met before they will relinquish control of the area back to the City of Minneapolis.

The sprawling list of demands includes the recall of Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, a call for various funds and investments totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars into “George Floyd Square Zone,” and assistance for minority-owned businesses in the area. The list also includes demands for action in legal cases unrelated to George Floyd, as well as the continued closure of the area at 38th and Chicago until after the trials of all four officers accused in the death of Floyd are completed.

In a Wednesday press conference held regarding the situation, Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said, “The current situation at 38th and Chicago is unacceptable and will not and must not be tolerated.”

Chief Arradondo stated that various organizations have agreed to partner with the Minneapolis Police Department to “help promote public safety in and around the area of 38th and Chicago.” The chief went on to name the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office, the U.S. Attorney’s Office Minnesota District, the ATF St. Paul Division and the FBI’s Minneapolis Field Office.

“Violence … must be addressed and those contributing to the harm of our neighborhoods have to be held accountable,” Arradondo said.

The blockaded area has become a point of contention between the city, residents and business owners and seems to be coming to a head following at least the fourth murder in the area since being taken over by activists.

Following the March 6 homicide of Imaz Wright, the area fell under the national spotlight after a Miami-based reporter was chased out of the area by activists who told him, “You’re gonna be in a bad situation in a second,” while he attempted to film a news segment outside a set of barricades.

On Wednesday, Lisa Clemons, former MPD sergeant and now director of “A Mother’s Love,”  a mentoring support organization, posted on Facebook that a woman had been sexually and physically assaulted at 38th and Chicago while visiting the area with her boyfriend.

Clemons called for Mayor Jacob Frey and Minneapolis City Council members to open up the area, saying, “This can’t wait until after the damn trial!”

Chief Arradondo said in the Wednesday press conference that he refuses to abdicate even one city block to “a group of individuals who choose violence over peace.” He said he wants to send a strong and clear message that they will restore peace, safety and hope for residents and businesses in the area.

Arradondo didn’t specify a time frame when enforcement actions would begin under the new partnership or detail any specific actions that would be taken, but he directed comments at those causing harm and said his coalition would bring “all legal resources and tools to bear to disrupt and prevent you from harming our community.”

Arradondo noted that ShotSpotter activations had increased over 2500% in the area of 38th and Chicago from 2019 to 2020 and that non-fatal gunshot victims increased from 3 to 18 over the same period. Robbery reports increased 240% and assaults increased by 378% from 2019 to 2020, he said, calling the numbers “staggering.”

The focused enforcement action will heavily involve the federal partners and the assets they can provide, Arradondo said.

Anders Folk, acting U.S. attorney for the District of Minnesota, said that the FBI, ATF and U.S. Marshals will play a role in the initiative. He said that the federal agencies will investigate and bring federal charges against individuals and groups carrying or using firearms in the commission of robberies, carjackings and other violent crimes and while dealing drugs.

Terry Henderson, special agent in charge of the ATF’s St. Paul Field Division, said that this will be a “continued and sustained effort” to investigate violent gun crime.

Arradondo said the community can expect to see more visibility of law enforcement in the area both in terms of community outreach and investigations into criminal activity. He stressed that the intersection “will reopen” but avoided saying exactly when the reopening would take place.

“It will be forthcoming,” he said.

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Minnesota Crime Watch & Information publishes news, info and commentary about crime, public safety and livability issues in Minneapolis, the Twin Cities and Greater Minnesota.