By Mike Kaszuba
In the aftermath of the high-profile police killing of George Floyd, the City of Minneapolis signed two contracts this year with The Agape Movement Co., a group that included former gang members that was formed after Floyd’s death to help young black men avoid a criminal lifestyle.
In early June, The Agape Movement took a lead role in reopening E. 38th Street and Chicago Avenue, the south Minneapolis intersection where Floyd was killed while being arrested. For much of the previous year, the intersection had been largely closed to traffic as large protests took place and makeshift memorials were erected to Floyd. His death in May 2020 had sparked anti-police protests not only in Minneapolis but around the world.
But the two contracts – totaling $384,000 and the subject of controversy among city officials – show how the city entered into uncharted territory in joining with the group. Even though The Agape Movement was required to file weekly and monthly reports to document its progress, the reports so far provide the public with little insight into what the group is accomplishing. One weekly report summarized by saying, “no incidents very pleasant weekend filled with celebration!”
The reports, filed with the city, were obtained by Public Record Media (PRM), a non-profit based in Saint Paul.
E-mails, also obtained by PRM, show that City Hall officials struggled initially to process the first contract with the group – and questioned whether the organization had the necessary insurance – because it could not reach representatives of The Agape Movement.
The group’s smaller one-year contract, which began in January and pays $25,000 to The Agape Movement, requires it to provide monthly reports to the city and focus on “outreach and engagement with young people at risk of perpetrating or being a victim of violence”, particularly in south Minneapolis.
The city’s contract in addition asked the group to attend a minimum of 10 community meetings a month, and connect with at least 10 agencies monthly “that provide services related [to] violence prevention and gang/gun violence interruption.”
Reports to city provide few details
The monthly report for May 2021 listed 10 entries – but has few other details.
One entry stated “Cure Violence – out reach training.” Another stated “The Cultural Wellness Center – community covid event.” A third entry stated “Touch Outreach – Youth and community services and patrols.”
One entry, according to the report, appeared to regard Daunte Wright, the 20-year-old black man who was fatally shot by a police officer during a traffic stop in suburban Brooklyn Center in April of this year. The entry (which spelled Wright’s first name differently) said simply: “Duante Wright Family – Healing services.”
The Agape Movement did not respond to multiple requests by PRM for comment on its city contracts.
PRM also asked the City of Minneapolis whether the organization was submitting any material – other than its weekly and monthly reports – that would provide more detail on what The Agape Movement was doing. A city spokesperson, in an e-mail to PRM in early October 2021, said that “The Agape Movement fulfilled their contract through their weekly and monthly reports.”
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey was criticized in June for approving the larger $359,000 contract, with City Council President Lisa Bender saying the contract was authorized without the City Council’s approval. Frey was also criticized by at least one City Council member for using pandemic emergency money for the contract. “It is a scandal that the mayor used his COVID-19 emergency powers in this way,” said City Council member Steve Fletcher.
One representative of The Agape Movement, Steve Floyd, who is listed on the group’s website as a senior advisor, was quoted in the Minneapolis Star Tribune in June as saying that the former gang members who form most of the group are trained in “verbal judo” to de-escalate street confrontations, and in addition run youth basketball and baseball programs.
“Our motto is to transform street energy into community energy,” said Floyd, whom the group’s website described as a 33-year gang outreach worker. “We believe the only way urban areas dealing with problems like violence can change is if gang members and drug dealers change.”
In a letter from the U.S. Internal Revenue Service in January 2021, the group was told it had been granted federal tax-exempt status and been declared a public charity.
A blog on the group’s website, which includes a “Donate” button, had a summary of its events ending the week of Sept. 19 of this year. “During the past ten weeks The Agape Movement has been going through a Rites of Passage training,” the blog said. “Rites of Passage is a ceremony, a ritual, an event, or experience that marks or constitutes a major milestone or change in a person’s life.”
Another blog entry, dated July 14 of this year, highlighted the group’s interactions with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Minnesota Lynx and US Bank.
“This week started off with cheer and laughter inside of George Floyd Square,” the blog began. “The Minnesota Timberwolves and the Minnesota Lynx launched their “Our Courts, Our Future” program in partnership with Southside Village Boys & Girls Club (Phelps Park) located at 39th & Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis, MN. We had such a great time visiting and celebrating the smiles that filled the newly remodeled gym.
“A special thank you to US Bank,” it added.
The larger city contract, which began June 1 of this year and pays the group $359,000 through the end of November 2021, focused on The Agape Movement efforts to help the city re-open the street intersection. As part of the weekly reports, the group was asked to describe “any incidents, including safety issues impacting Outreach Workers or community members” or any encounters with law enforcement.
Weekly report: “Very pleasant weekend”
The report for the week ending July 3 – one month after the public street intersection was reopened – said simply: “No incidents very pleasant weekend filled with celebration!”
The report for the week ending June 20 was similar. Under “Standouts/Highlights”, it stated: “Having the people from the community and out of state stop by and say thank you to the team for opening the streets and for the work that is being done.”
The weekly reports were titled the “Agape Reconnect 38th (reopening) Shift Debriefing Form”, and said group members were on duty from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m. daily. The report for the week ending June 20 added that the “Juneteenth Event went off very successfully many vendors came and supported the entire weekend of events.”
Other aspects of the weekly reports show that the group was occupied with relatively small undertakings.
Under “standouts/highlights” for the July 3 report, The Agape Movement said it had “the team help with cleaning of 612 Mash Medical tents located inside the square along with assisting Jay the gardener with moving the flowers, blue shelving and other wood items located in the alley/loading dock area so Tea Street Café could have their items be delivered for the soft opening and opening of their business.”
For the week ending June 13, the report added under “frustration/challenges” that the Agape “team was met with garbage/junk (old refrigerators, microwaves, couches, chairs etc.) being dropped off to block off intersections from people who did not live in the nearby neighborhoods.”
The report for that week also stated, under “frustration/challenges”, that the group was having “media/journalists not cooperate in listening to team workers ask them to move for their safety. [We had] to de-escalate altercation between protestors and journalists on a few occasions during the week.”
And the weekly report for June 20 also listed work that the group recommended the city needed to do.
Under “adjustments needed”, the report said that “the city Public Works [needs to] come out and repaint the lines to divide the street.”
Though the weekly reports consisted mostly of short summaries, the group’s larger city contract required it to perform a long list of tasks – some of which appeared aimed at allowing the city itself to see what the group was doing.
The Agape Movement promised, among other things, to provide “community-based, on-the-ground outreach work, through strategies like awareness building, community gatherings, peace walk, and other methods.” The contract also required the group to provide resources “on COVID-safe practices related to community gatherings and events”, and access to COVID testing and vaccination resources.
Under the contract, the group also had to allow city staff to shadow its teams as they did their work and involve city staff daily on “strategic or high-level programmatic decision making.”
Agape not to perform “law enforcement functions”
It also stated that the group’s members “will not perform any law enforcement functions or tasks, or possess, carry or use firearms or weapons of any kind while performing services” under the contract.
The contract called for the group to have as many as 50 team members available daily, and operate for an average of 10 hours a day, seven days a week.
Other documents obtained by PRM, meanwhile, detail how city officials had trouble getting The Agape Movement to provide information in order to have its initial $25,000 contract approved.
In late October of last year Maija Peura, a city contracts official, tried to contact The Agape Movement. In an e-mail titled “Information needed to avoid contract delay”, Peura wrote to the group’s co-founder Alfonzo Williams. “Alfonzo – I don’t believe that we ever received this [information] from you. Can you please submit it asap as we are unable to move forward with processing your contract until we receive it,” Peura wrote.
Peura wrote again to Williams on Nov. 2. “Hi Alfonzo – can you please acknowledge that you are receiving my emails? I would appreciate it,” Peura wrote.
Peura wrote another e-mail, this time to a city colleague on Nov. 20, complaining of an inability to reach group representatives. Williams “hasn’t responded and hasn’t sent his insurance. The contract is just sitting there waiting to be executed,” Peura wrote. “Can you help?”
City official to Agape: “Do you have staff?”
And on Nov. 23 of last year, Peura sent yet another e-mail to the organization. “Do you have staff? If yes, you will need worker’s compensation. Are you using your vehicle for the work? If yes, you need to provide auto insurance,” Peura wrote.
Despite those issues, the initial $25,000 city contract with The Agape Movement began on Jan. 1, 2021.
The group’s first report under the contract, for the month of February, showed that it had interactions with 10 community organizations – but provided few details for the public.
One entry for Worldwide Christ Outreach said only, “Faith based services.” Another with Change Inc. stated “Programs and services for youth.” Two others with Urban Youth Conservation and We Push for Peace stated the topic was “Gang intervention.” And another entry for Change Equals Opportunity stated simply, “sports and youth mentoring services.”
The group’s entries for March likewise had only brief descriptions, and included ABC Cubicles Assembly for “employmen[t] opportunities” and an Elders Leadership Meeting for “Elder and community services.”
Like its other reports the group’s report for April – the month when Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murdering Floyd during the arrest – provided only a brief summary for the public of what The Agape Movement was doing.
The April report had nine entries, including one involving Zion Baptist Church for “community preparation for sentencing.” Another simply stated, “Freedom Fighters – sentencing safety preparation.” The report listed entries for both the Minnesota Twins and Best Buy, with the Best Buy entry focused on “Teen Tech programming.” Another entry, this one with the Powderhorn Neighborhood Association, said only: “community organizing.”
The listings however included a message from the group. “Agape Movement has been meeting regularly with various community organizations,” the statement in the city report stated. “Our meetings are intended to increase our ability to serve and build the capacity of our community.”