Militant Journalism

Minneapolis: Protests denounce murder of Winston Smith, resist dismantling of George Floyd Square

On June 3, Minneapolis-area authorities carried out an escalation in the ruling-class war on Black lives, beginning with an attempted eviction of George Floyd Square in the morning and continuing with the killing of 32-year-old Black man Winston Boogie Smith, Jr. in the afternoon by U.S. Marshals. 

Shortly after 4:00 am, city workers told organizers at the square that they were there to start tearing down the community-held area so that the street could be opened to car traffic. George Floyd Square has been held by participants in the movement for Black lives for more than a year since the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020. The square has become a location for community organizing, art and education. It is a source of embarassment and pressure for the city elite who are firmly supportive of the police. 

City workers began by removing barricades to the streets and quickly followed up by uprooting plants that were planted by community members to honor Floyd’s life. The city government is also making a push to cynically manipulate non-profit organizations into assisting this effort. In a Facebook livestream documenting the situation as it happened, Mileesha Boh Smith, one of the lead organizers at George Floyd Square, referred to this repression from the city as a “battle in a war.” 

Winston Smith killed by police

In the afternoon of June 3, 10 minutes away from George Floyd Square, authorities from a U.S. Marshals’ task force ambushed Winston Smith on top of a parking ramp in the Uptown neighborhood after he had eaten at Stella’s Fish Café across the street. Two sheriff’s deputies (one Ramsey County and one Hennepin County) acting as part of the U.S. Marshals Service’s “North Star Fugitive Task Force” shot and killed the 32-year-old father of three in his car. Witnesses nearby said they heard at least 10-15 shots.

Winston Smith was a beloved member of the community. As his Instagram bio states, Smith did music, acting, comedy and camera work. He also posted videos of himself discussing his political beliefs, speaking out about his support for the struggle against the anti-Black police state.

The initial report on Winston Smith’s killing put forward by corporate media stated that a murder suspect was apprehended and killed. A few hours later, the narrative was changed to say that deputies were trying to arrest Winston Smith on suspicion of being a felon with a gun when they shot him in his car because he “produced a weapon.” There have been few details released about Winston’s death. There is no body camera footage because the U.S. Marshals Service does not require body camera footage for officers serving on its North Star Fugitive Task Force.

The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which is a body under the Minnesota attorney general set up to investigate police crimes, said there is no squad camera footage either. The state’s bulletin claimed evidence a gun was fired from inside the vehicle. The everchanging story is an attempt by the state to assassinate the character of Smith and muddy the waters so that enraged people would not take the streets in protest.

A candlelight vigil for Winston Smith At Lake and Grand on the evening of June 4. Liberation photo
A candlelight vigil for Winston Smith at Lake and Grand on the evening of June 4. Liberation photo

Struggle over George Floyd Square continues

Within hours of the June 3 attempt to clear it, activists and volunteers flooded to George Floyd Square to replace the barricades, gardens and shelters that the city government had destroyed. Five days later, on June 8, the city sent its crews a second time to George Floyd Square in an attempt to open up the area to car traffic. As soon as the city’s crews finished moving the barricades, protesters began parking cars and moving pallets into the streets again to secure the square.

Meanwhile, working-class Minneapolis residents converged on the commercial Uptown neighborhood where Winston Smith was killed to honor his life and to demand justice, where they met yet more police repression. In one incident observed by Liberation News, cops cracked the head of one mourner who was bringing free pizza to others when the police attempted to disperse about 20 people in a quiet vigil on the intersection of Lake Street and Hennepin Avenue. Two hours later, hundreds were holding the area at Lake and Girard, one block to the east, in a candlelight vigil.

Since the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police at 38th and Chicago, the square, occupied by working-class Black people and their supporters, has been a symbol of community resistance against racist police violence. In the city that sparked a nationwide protest movement fighting for Black lives, George Floyd Square is the hub for this struggle. In its failed invasion of George Floyd Square, the city government sought to reappropriate the memorial for George Floyd and the symbol of resistance it has become by attempting to bring it under their control. A George Floyd Square that is controlled, occupied, and safe-guarded by the people is a threat to the legitimacy of the state and their false narrative that we have already achieved justice for Black lives.

The continued existence of an occupied George Floyd Square shows that the struggle for Black lives in the United States is ongoing. This is not something the city government of Minneapolis, nor something the capitalist government of any city in the United States, wants. The same goal of social control drove the police’s efforts to prevent the vigil organized for Smith from taking place. A vigil legitimizes the fact that Smith was a beloved member of the Minneapolis community. As usual, police were willing to resort to violence, including cracking open a woman’s head and washing her blood off the streets of Uptown, to uphold these interests.

Justice for Winston Smith! Prosecute the police! George Floyd Square belongs to the people! End the war on Black America!

Feature photo: The center of George Floyd Square at 38th and Chicago late in the morning after the eviction attempt. Liberation photo

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