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.