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A Woke Mural and Black Dolls: How Target Hides Its Racism

Target used empty antiracist gestures in reopening its East Lake Street store in Minneapolis, which was damaged during the George Floyd uprising. But featuring a woke mural and selling Black dolls will not hide its role in violent racist policing.

Adnan Ahmed

July 8, 2021
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The Target store on East Lake Street in Minneapolis, which was heavily damaged during the George Floyd uprising, reopened its doors in November 2020. Despite the damage, Target reported a $15 billion increase in sales in 2020. In a year when the pandemic devastated working-class families — disproportionately Black — Target’s sales growth was greater than in the past 11 years combined, according to CEO Brian Cornell.

As the reopening rolled around, the mainstream media lauded Target’s efforts in equity and its philanthropic solutions to racism. But absent was any mention of Target’s decades-long role in actively collaborating with cops and criminalizing Black people. This partnership with cops is a vital function of its business model. In a racist-capitalist society, big-box stores like Target need cops to protect their massive wealth.

Previously nicknamed “Tar-ghetto” for being poorly stocked and unclean, the Lake Street Target consulted neighborhood organizations and community members on its reopening. Target left no stone unturned in trying to appear invested in the community. The new store boasted a greater selection of spices, “ethnic” hair products, and a diverse doll collection. For the reconstruction (which cost millions), Target partnered with the Black woman-owned Noor Companies.

Friends with Benefits: Nonprofits Stand Together

The icing on the cake was a mural displayed outside the store that reads “We Stand Together, We Build Together.” The mural was designed by artists from the nonprofit Juxtaposition Arts, which claims to develop “community by engaging and employing young urban artists in hands-on education initiatives that create pathways to self-sufficiency while actualizing creative power.” Where the word “Together” appears first on the mural, there is an image of protesters outside a burning building. Although not made explicit, the burning building in the mural seems to represent the burning of the third precinct directly across the street from the Target store. This is striking, considering Target’s cozy relationship with cops.

Juxtaposition Arts was one of the recipients of a $5 million “Hometown Racial Equity” grant that the Target Foundation provided to various local nonprofits in the Twin Cities involved in serving BIPOC communities. Juxtaposition Arts was also one of the 10 recipients awarded a surprise $ 7 million grant from McKnight and Ford Foundations to be shared with local nonprofits designated as “regional cultural treasures” for their work with BIPOC communities. It is also noteworthy that the CEO of McKnight Foundation, DeAnna Cummings, is the former program director and cofounder of Juxtaposition Arts. She is also the wife of Roger Cummings, who is the other cofounder and current chief cultural producer at Juxtaposition Arts. Left Voice reached out to Roger Cummings and the artists of the mural to ask if they thought the mural was covering up Target’s role in policing Black people, but as of this writing had not heard from them.

Target’s History of Policing Black People

Target’s role in policing has been chronicled in detail by Marjaan Sirdar’s investigative series “21st Century Jim Crow in the North Star City.” Target’s partnership with law enforcement dates back to the early 2000s, when it wanted to build more stores in the downtown areas. Target executives feared, however, that customers would not shop there unless the experience was “more like Disney World and less like a flea market,” as described by Brad Brekke, then the vice president of assets protection.

This led to the creation of the SafeZone Collaborative (a nonprofit formed by the Minneapolis Police Department) as a public-private surveillance initiative. In 2004 Target donated $300,000 to the city of Minneapolis to purchase cameras that were placed strategically in the Downtown area. In 2009, SafeZone (now known as Vibrant and Safe Downtown) became a subsidiary of the Downtown Improvement District (DID), an association of business owners, residents, and leaders who agreed to be taxed at a higher rate in exchange for increased security and surveillance cameras in the downtown area. A derivative of DID was Downtown 100 initiative, which was a collaboration between the SafeZone initiative, cops, city and county attorneys, and local shelters to remove the “top offenders” from the Downtown area. This list of “top offenders” provided by the Minneapolis Police Department consisted of people with a history of being charged with misdemeanor crimes, such as drug offenses, trespassing, disorderly conduct and theft, all offenses with which people of color are disproportionately charged. Since the creation of SafeZone in 2004, Target has started similar law-enforcement programs in at least 20 other cities.

Target is also known as the worst store to shoplift from. Using facial-recognition technology and coordinating with other stores, it lets shoplifters get away, all the while building an incremental case until there is evidence to charge someone with a felony.

On a broader scale, Target has two state-of-the-art forensic labs in Minneapolis and Las Vegas that sometimes collaborate with law enforcement. Target has helped law enforcement conduct undercover operations and trained law enforcement. Target has described its partnerships with local police departments as “charitable giving.” Through these philanthropic “charitable contributions” to nonprofits set up by local police, Target can wield influence over how the money is spent while protecting itself from accusations of impropriety.

Target’s History of Worker Exploitation

Target also brought its policing tactics into its hiring practices. In 2018 Target agreed to settle a lawsuit by paying $3.74 million in damages for disqualifying job applicants for convictions unrelated to the position they were applying for. In 2019 Target announced an increase in minimum wage. To compensate for that, it simultaneously reduced work hours and increased workloads. On May 1, 2020 (International Workers Day), Target employees joined others for a “sick-out” to protest unsafe working conditions, poor benefits, and slashing of hours during the pandemic. In an interview from March 2020, 50 Target employees shared “stories of having to decide between keeping their jobs and risking their health and the health of their customers, or leaving the store, unpaid but safer from Covid-19.”

Target Cannot Hide Its Racism behind a Woke Mural

Capitalism is built on exploiting Black and Brown bodies for profit. To maintain its profits, the ruling class must also maintain racist social hierarchies, and that is what cops are for. Target has subsidized and aided cops, who are the descendants of slave catchers. DeAnna Cummings acknowledged the slave-patrol origins of police in an interview three days after the murder of George Floyd and months before Juxtaposition Arts helped cover up Target’s role in violent racist policing with the woke mural.

Target’s role in policing Black lives while using antiracist messaging is exactly how the ruling class — to maintain the status quo — weaponizes people from marginalized backgrounds to become their own oppressors. As Walter Rodney discusses in his book How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, colonial rulers gave positions of power to a select few members of the oppressed class to keep the masses in check. In a piece brilliantly titled “Fuck Mindfulness Workshops,” Tithi Bhattacharya describes how the ruling class uses women and people of color to “launder its violence.”

If Target really cared about racism, it would cut its ties with cops. But Target and businesses like it have thrived on the racialized capitalist system that relies on cops for its survival. For Target to divorce itself from cops would be akin to cutting off its own oxygen supply.

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Adnan Ahmed

Adnan Ahmed is an activist who lives in the Twin Cities.

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