How defunding the police backfired in Minneapolis, the city which sparked George Floyd protests across the world
Visitors to the George Floyd memorial in Minneapolis must walk past concrete barricades and makeshift checkpoints to reach the site where the 46-year-old took his last breath with his face pressed to the asphalt.
Signs marking the entrance to the birthplace of a global racial justice movement read: “You are now entering the free state of George Floyd” and “cops not welcome”.
The world is set to revisit the death of Mr Floyd this week when the trial of Derek Chauvin, the white police officer who kneeled on his neck during his final moments, begins.
His death not only triggered a hot summer of protests but also calls to "defund" the police that have reverberated across the US and as far as the UK.
The four-block intersection where Mr Floyd died - renamed George Floyd Square - is now a test case, with concrete barricades and a regular swarm of activists manning an "autonomous zone", effectively barring police from the area.
And it is not going well.
Earlier this month a 30-year-old volunteer was shot dead, and cars with broken windows line the streets. Business owners say customers have fled and emergency services refuse to come in.
“I call that the United States," says Sam Willis, the owner of Just Turkey restaurant, as he gestures beyond the barrier. "Over here, this is an area where there’s lawlessness."
The so-called autonomous zone was initially supported by Minneapolis' progressive city council. Last June a majority of councillors vowed to dismantle the city’s police department and later cut $8 million from its budget, in a knee-jerk reaction to protests over Mr Floyd's death.
More than 100 police officers left the force last year - double the usual number - and dozens more are on leave with post-traumatic stress from the violent unrest that rocked the city after Mr Floyd's death.
The police department says the drop in resources has forced it to prioritise responding to only the most serious crimes.
At the barriers to George Floyd square activists sit in the graffitied checkpoint stalls with small heaters and kettles, peering out from plastic windows to ensure no police officers gain entry.
The flowers and messages of hope and peace that first adorned the streets have been overshadowed by boarded up businesses and graffiti.
A sign on one entrance urges visitors to approach the area in the same way they would "visiting Auschwitz"; at another a large whiteboard lists a set of demands for the city's leaders.
Mr Willis, 46, says his restaurant, like many other black-owned businesses within the area, has been hit hard by the road closures and the growing crime rate.
“A guy got killed down here three weeks ago. They had to drive them to the hospital because the ambulance won’t come. You can’t have that,” he says.
Next door, the owners of a BBQ joint have made their feelings known with a mural across their shop front. "The wise build bridges. The foolish build barriers," it reads.
Ivy Alexander, 58, the restaurant's co-owner, says she is sympathetic with activists' social justice demands, but has felt unsafe at more than one point over the last year. "I had one employee quit because he feared for his life," she said.
Mrs Alexander and other black-owned businesses on the street have resorted to crowd sourcing to help them stay afloat.
Activists in the area argue that the crime levels in George Floyd Square are no higher than in other parts of the city, but claim the incidents here get more media attention because it is a police-free zone.
"There's always been crime here, that's just the neighbourhood," one activist in his 30s, who did not want to be named, tells The Telegraph from inside a makeshift checkpoint. "Outsiders give more focus to it because they don't like what's happening here."
The activist claimed that volunteers like him stop troublemakers at the entrance to the area.
But the signs of criminal activity are clear to see. Criminal gangs operate openly, and residents say it is not unusual to see people carrying firearms.
Don Samuels, 72, the CEO of a non-profit and a black former city councillor, said there was a bitter irony to the area's plight. "Even though George Floyd Square is the epicentre of global focus and certainly the place where this all started, it's truly the case that the residents there have experienced more violence," he told The Telegraph.
"We've historically been underserved, but now we're being underserved by the 'woke' people [in the council] who say 'we'll tell you, the community most vulnerable to the absence of police, what should happen'," he said.
Mr Samuels is among a group of residents who are suing the city for failing to protect the community, arguing the city leaders' support of the "defund the police movement" emboldened criminals and demoralised officers.
The city's police chief, Medaria Arradondo, has admitted the level of violence in the area is "staggering and unacceptable", but said a shortage of police resources has presented an "operational challenge".
Some city councillors have now recanted on their earlier pledge to dismantle the police department and recently approved a $6.4 million recruitment drive to hire dozens more officers.
Minneapolis is not unique. Attempts to create an autonomous zone in Portland and Seattle were unmitigated failures, and while more than 20 US cities have moved to reduce their policing budgets, early pledges to drastically cut policing departments are no closer to becoming reality.
Support for the movement is also at an all-time low among the general public, with a recent Ipsos poll showing just 18 per cent of Americans supported the movement, while 58 per cent said they opposed it.
But tensions between law enforcement and the Minneapolis community are set to be tested again in the coming weeks, with the trial of Mr Chauvin, the former police officer charged with killing Mr Floyd.
With opening arguments due to begin on Monday, Minneapolis is once again in the spotlight.
In anticipation of potential unrest, much of the city centre - including the courthouse where the trial is taking place - have been boarded up and surrounded by layers of fencing. Thousands of National Guard troops and other law enforcement officers have been drafted into the city for the duration of the trial.
City officials have delayed reopening George Floyd Square, fearing any sudden moves may lead to a fresh wave of violence, but the city's mayor, Jacob Frey, has promised the barriers will come down after Mr Chauvin's trial concludes.
But not everyone in the area welcomes an end to the autonomous zone. "There's violence that's happening over there but I think the police are just going to make it worse," said Louis Hunter, a 42-year-old local business owner who served food to demonstrators during last year's protests.
Mr Hunter is the cousin of Philando Castile, another black man who was killed by Minneapolis police in 2016. He argued "lives have been saved" by the decision to cut the city's police resources.
"We tried the police body cameras, we've engaged them every which way, so now let's defund the police," he said.
"Our city is emotional right now because we're looking for a victory. No justice, no peace. That's not going to be that way just here in Minneapolis - it's going to be throughout the world," he added.