Opinion:Target’s role in criminalizing Black youth

Mike Mozart

Target’s CEO Brian Cornell recently told MSR that Target has “committed to making a difference and having an impact on our hometown.

“We have a longstanding commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. It’s a core part of who we are. Importantly, it has helped drive our business. That’s not something that’s new—we have had a diversity and inclusion strategy and office in place for now over 15 years.”

However, the public record tells an entirely different story. Nine years ago, in 2012, Target Corp was at the center of the “Ban the Box” campaign which uncovered systematic racial discrimination in hiring. Target stores around the nation were caught discriminating against Black applicants, and in 2017, they settled the case in a class-action lawsuit brought by the NAACP for $3.5 million.

This only begins to tell the story of Target’s role in helping create the worst-in-the-nation racial disparities in Minneapolis.

In 2003, Target Corp., the City of Minneapolis and Hennepin County created a new “public-private partnership” that completely blurred the boundaries between government responsibility and corporate profiteering.

It resulted in local criminal “justice” and law enforcement systems surrendering unprecedented power to Target Corp. and its associates, with devastating consequences for Black people especially, and the city overall. All with the stated goals of creating the ideal shopping environment for Target’s “suburban” base and increasing profits.

“We try to create a shopping experience that’s not just commodity exchange, but a pleasurable experience. The guest experience, as we call it, is a very big contrast in that we want to be a lot more like Disney World and a lot less like a flea market,” said Brad Brekke of Target.

A program in Minneapolis that was co-created by Target called the Downtown 100 Initiative (DT100) is perhaps the city’s primary feeder program from the streets into the criminal justice system.

The DT100 is essentially a criminal registry and those who end up on the list are targeted on site by downtown police. People on the list have consistently been over 95% Black, with the goal to remove them from downtown, whether they committed a crime or not. Many who end up on the list simply had the misfortune of being young, Black and homeless. Such a program upholds an invisible Jim Crow-like system of segregation in Minneapolis.

Coming out of slavery, vagrancy laws were critical for White police officers to attack young Black people, according to Keith Mayes, associate professor of African American and African Studies at the University of Minnesota. “This is still ongoing even to this very day. They’re trying to sweep up Black youth out of downtown,” said Mayes.

“21st Century Jim Crow in the North Star City,” my ongoing report published by Unicorn Riot, details public-private corruption at the highest levels, with Target Corp. at the center of a decades-long corporate surveillance state.

“In order to attract higher income White folks from the suburbs to live downtown, they had to not only reconstitute the physical structure but they had to get rid of, or manage, the population which has been there historically. So to instill a culture of fear, you have to create a narrative that these people are problematic because they’re engaging in criminal activity,” according to Mayes.

The DT100 is part of a larger program called the “Safezone” that began in 2004 with 30 surveillance cameras erected downtown. Target has since expanded this operation throughout the city and country via its “Safe City” initiative.

In 2006, Minneapolis became Target’s premiere “Safe City” with a new multi law enforcement agency collaboration and an increased police presence in downtown Minneapolis, as well as other “hot spot areas” across the city.

These practices have roots in the Black codes of the 1870s, which were a series of laws mostly in the South that criminalized all aspects of Black life when they weren’t laboring for Whites. It was never about public safety but rather surveilling and restricting the movement of Black people, according to Mayes.

“The way to control their labor was to control their movement. And if you could control their movement, you could control everything else. Your day-to-day, minute-to-minute existence was restricted with these laws: loitering, vagrancy, lurking, curfew. And then, you better be able to furnish paperwork that said who you belonged to, otherwise you’d be jailed, put on the chain gang, and have your labor contracted out to the government or private business,” explained Mayes.

“21st Century Jim Crow” exposes sweeping implications that Minneapolis has served as a model for the global brutal surveillance state, inspired by Target Corporation, funded by taxpayers, and exemplified today in China with their own “Safe Cities” program.

“Wherever there’s human rights violations, there’s a corporation turning a profit,” said Mayes. “You’re going to always find throughout U.S. history that behind some of these draconian policies and practices are corporations.”

Marjaan Sirdar is a freelance writer in South Minneapolis’ Bryant neighborhood, and the host of the People Power Podcast.