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Balimore's Mondawmin Mall Target Closes

Mondawmin Target store in West Baltimore’s historic Black community that closed in 2018. (Screenshot)

Target’s Bullseye on Black Youth

Target’s pledge to invest in the Black community rings hollow

Marjaan Sirdar

On June 30, the New York Times published an article, Target Store Closings Show Limits of Pledge to Black Communities, about Target closing 13 stores and divesting in some Black communities. This is after the nation’s #2 discount retailer publicly committed to investing $2 billion in Black communities following Target’s “woke” moment in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the looting of its South Minneapolis store, which is across the street from where the third precinct police station burned. 

The story quoted Sadiq Ali, former manager of the Mondawmin store in West Baltimore’s historic Black community that closed in 2018: “When white folks started shopping in the store, it meant they felt safe enough to cross the tracks.” 

This article misses the mark because it reinforces the racist trope that Black criminality, rather than racist white attitudes, is what kept whites in Baltimore from “crossing the tracks”. However, in Minneapolis where Target’s flagship store and headquarters have been located for two decades, it was not Black criminality that kept white people from shopping in downtown Minneapolis, it was manufactured, racist fear of Black people. 

As a top Target executive told Security Info Watch in 2012, “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.” This executive was essentially saying that their priority was to make white people comfortable to shop in downtown. This has had devastating consequences for Black people especially, and Minneapolis overall. 

Target’s pledge to invest in the Black community rings hollow to activists following two decades of Target Corp., the city of Minneapolis and Hennepin County investing heavily in locking up Black youth.

In 2003, all three entities created a new “public-private partnership” that 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 who began funding local police and the Hennepin County prosecutor’s office to target “lifestyle offenders,” which is code for homeless people. Their stated goals were increasing profits and creating the ideal shopping environment for Target’s “suburban” base, all without uttering a racist word. 

A popular “criminal justice” program that has gained traction around the country, the Downtown 100 Initiative (DT100), was co-created by Target, the city of Minneapolis and Hennepin County. The DT100 is essentially a criminal registry and is perhaps the city’s primary feeder program from the streets into the criminal justice system. 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, which has observers asking: “Safety for whom?”

Dr. Keith Mayes, associate professor of African American and African Studies at the University of Minnesota, said in part two of my upcoming documentary, Targeted: Young, Black and Harassed in Downtown Minneapolis: “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.”

One young man who used to frequent downtown told me, “After walking around all day because we were homeless, we couldn’t even sit down on a bench to rest our feet without the cops harassing us.”

According to former DT100 case managers Anne Kent and Mickella Rolfes, the DT100 list is populated by people who have the most police contacts rather than arrests. In other words: whoever police choose to target and harass. People on the list are consistently over 95% Black, according to Kent and Rolfes, and are targeted on-site by downtown police whether they committed a crime or not. 

Some of the most common charges are drug possession, loitering, trespassing, jaywalking, lurking with intent to commit a crime. An overwhelming majority of the people who end up on the list simply have the misfortune of being young, Black, and homeless. Such a program upholds an invisible racial apartheid system in Minneapolis. This system has made conditions so bad for Black people and reduced their status to such that Derek Chauvin and his allies thought it was perfectly acceptable to lynch a Black man in front of dozens of witnesses. 

Dr. Mayes puts contemporary harassment that can have fatal consequences into historical context: “Coming out of slavery, vagrancy laws were critical for white police officers to attack young Black people. This is still ongoing even to this very day. They’re trying to sweep up Black youth out of downtown.” According to Mayes, “It was never about public safety but rather surveilling and restricting the movement of Black people.”

In “21st Century Jim Crow in the North Star City”, my investigative series published by Unicorn Riot, I detail public-private corruption implicating Minneapolis city attorneys and Hennepin County prosecutors, with Target Corp. at the center of a decades-long corporate surveillance state.

One of the most egregious examples of injustice generated from this partnership is in the conviction of 15-year-old Mahdi Hassan Ali. He was convicted of a 2010 triple homicide in part based on the testimony of two brothers who were also convicted for the murders and named Ali as the shooter. His conviction was also based on an expert video forensics examiner from Target Corp. who performed video analysis and testified against Ali.

Ali has always maintained his innocence and says there was a video of him elsewhere that would have proved it, according to Michelle Gross of Communities Against Police Brutality who is in regular contact with Ali. My research is not adequate to demonstrate his innocence, but it clearly demonstrates the 15-year-old did not receive a fair trial since Target funded the police and prosecutor's office while serving as an expert witness in court. 

Perhaps Target pulled out of West Baltimore because Baltimore City state's attorney Marilyn Mosby was not willing to “play ball” with Target the way the Minneapolis city attorney, a former Target executive, is, along with his predecessor now chief justice of Minnesota’s appellate court. Maybe the city of Baltimore was not willing to lock up vulnerable Black youth who need support the way the current Hennepin County prosecutor is, along with his predecessor who is now a U.S. Senator, and that’s why Target closed its Mondawmin store. 

Whatever the reason, one thing is clear: our communities and cities are better off without Target engaging in systematic racist practices and criminalizing Black youth and children. 


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Marjaan Sirdar

Marjaan Sirdar

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

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