Min­ne­ap­olis and St. Paul are being tested.

Build­ings are burn­ing, stores are be­ing loot­ed and more lives are in dan­ger.

The af­ter­math of the Memorial Day death of George Floyd in south Min­ne­ap­olis has laid bare the deep­ly root­ed an­ger that has long-sim­mered in mi­nor­i­ty com­mu­ni­ties and be­yond. An­ger over polic­ing. An­ger over in­e­qual­i­ty. And an­ger over rac­ism that still haunts these cit­ies and na­tion in 2020.

It’s a year that will for­ev­er be re­mem­bered for a dead­ly pan­dem­ic that makes the fu­ture more un­cer­tain for all of us, and no doubt bleak­er for many of those who al­read­y toil in serv­ice-sec­tor jobs that are dis­ap­pear­ing by the thou­sands every week. And in the Twin Cities, it’s a year that will be re­mem­bered for George Floyd.

None of this ex­cus­es the may­hem that un­fold­ed across both cit­ies. But it helps ex­plain how we got here.

In this tip­ping point mo­ment for Min­ne­ap­olis and St. Paul, city lead­ers face a de­fin­ing chal­lenge. Min­ne­ap­olis May­or Ja­cob, St. Paul May­or Mel­vin Carter and their re­spec­tive chiefs of po­lice, who have all called for calm as the pro­tests have spread, are criti­cal fig­ures. The de­ci­sions they make in the days a­head will go a long way to­ward de­ter­min­ing wheth­er peace and pub­lic safe­ty can be re­stored.

Nei­ther Frey nor Min­ne­ap­olis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo can piece their city back to­gether on their own, and their cred­i­bil­i­ty is un­der­stand­a­bly at a low point in com­mu­ni­ties of color af­ter Floyd’s shocking death. Pos­si­bly with that con­stit­u­en­cy in mind, Frey took an un­u­su­al­ly ag­gres­sive step Wednes­day, ad­vo­cat­ing for crim­i­nal charges to be filed just as the in­ves­ti­gat­ions were be­gin­ning.

To his cred­it, state Attorney General Keith El­li­son was more meas­ured Wednes­day, urging that Min­ne­so­tans al­low the fact-find­ing to con­tin­ue and pledg­ing that his of­fice will be “watch­ing.” And Carter im­plored pro­test­ers to stay home and “keep the fo­cus on George Floyd, on ad­van­cing our move­ment, and on pre­vent­ing this from ever hap­pen­ing a­gain.”

How Min­ne­ap­olis and St. Paul will re­spond from here trans­cends gov­ern­ment, though. Key com­muni­ty lead­ers in­clud­ing Nekima Levy-Arm­strong, Don Samuels, Tyrone Terrill and Ste­ven Bel­ton can help set a con­struc­tive tone fo­cused on sys­tem­ic change. While strong­ly de­mand­ing jus­tice for Floyd, they can help cham­pi­on peace­ful pro­test.

Min­ne­so­ta State Au­di­tor Jul­ie Blaha, in a tweet, in­voked the late Mar­tin Lu­ther King Jr. in ex­plain­ing the wreck­age that Min­ne­ap­olis woke up to Thurs­day morn­ing.

“Keep MLK’s quote ‘A riot is the lan­guage of the un­heard’ in your mind to­day,” Blaha wrote. “In re­act­ing to the de­struc­tion, our re­flex may be to fo­cus on the vi­o­lence. For real change though, let’s see the grief first, then act on the need for jus­tice.”

The grief is real, yet the vi­o­lence en­dang­ers all of us re­gard­less of the color of our skin. King con­tinued to preach non­vi­o­lence un­til his death, while ac­know­ledg­ing that “riots do not de­vel­op out of thin air.” He also of­fered a non­vi­o­lent pre­scrip­tion that rings true to­day: “So­cial jus­tice and prog­ress are the ab­so­lute guar­an­tors of riot pre­ven­tion.”

Bel­ton, Urban League Twin Cities pres­i­dent and CEO, would like­ly a­gree, but in the mean­time he does not want to see neighborhoods and live­li­hoods de­stroyed. In a Thurs­day state­ment, Bel­ton said the vi­o­lence in Min­ne­ap­olis would only serve to “hi­jack the a­gen­da of po­lice re­form and ac­count­a­bil­i­ty, which is where the fo­cus should be.”

“Violence is not an hon­or­a­ble or heal­thy re­course for our per­son­al or col­lec­tive an­ger and mourn­ing,” he wrote. “The mem­o­ry of George Floyd de­serves bet­ter.”

O­pin­ion ed­i­tor’s note: This ed­i­to­ri­al is ad­apt­ed from Wednes­day’s e­di­tion of the daily Star Tribune O­pin­ion e-mail news­let­ter. To sign up for the news­let­ter, which high­lights the best of ed­i­to­ri­al and com­men­tar­y and notes from ed­i­to­ri­al page ed­i­tor Scott Gil­les­pie, go to bit.ly/OpinionNewsletter.