Why Demonstrators Protesting the Death of George Floyd in Minneapolis Keyed In on Target

Locals' issues with the retailer and the communities it serves go way back

Two Target locations in the Twin Cities became hot spots for protesters. Getty Images

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn.—The rallying cry of “no justice, no peace” continues to be heard across Minneapolis tonight, with buildings set ablaze, windows of business shattered and fireworks ignited in the street to denounce police brutality and demand accountability for the death of George Floyd.

Tension began building Tuesday, one day after a police officer kneeled on Floyd’s neck for nine minutes; that officer was finally charged today with third-degree murder. That tension escalated into aggression late Wednesday as the protest moved down Lake Street, a major commercial corridor lined with small businesses and big-name stores. By Thursday morning, a Wendy’s had crumbled, an AutoZone and a Dollar General had been set ablaze, and a Cub Foods, Dollar Tree and CVS had been ransacked.

But the Lake Street store that got the most attention, from both media and the people out on the streets, was Target, which was stripped bare. As demonstrations spilled over into St. Paul, the Midway Target store on University Avenue was subsequently looted, followed by chants from protestors of “I can’t breathe” to police officers at the scene.

Target, which is headquartered in Minneapolis, was not chosen at random. Twin Cities locals explained the reasoning behind keying in on the chain on social media, which includes a hiring discrimination lawsuit and a history of funding and supporting local police.

A deep-rooted history

The red bull’s-eye logo of the eighth-largest retailer in the United States is ubiquitous in Minneapolis. The wagging tail of Target’s branded miniature bull terrier can be seen whenever a Twins player hits a home run at Target Field. And Target Center, the home of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Lynx, overlooks the downtown entertainment district.

But Target’s involvement with Minneapolis goes beyond its brand presence.

Target established a forensics crime lab in 2003 at its campus in Brooklyn Park, Minn., which creates high-resolution images from surveillance data collected by cameras. The following year, Target donated $300,000 to the city’s police department to set up surveillance cameras throughout downtown Minneapolis—reportedly covering a roughly 40-block radius—as part of its SafeZone program.

Per a spokesperson for Target, SafeZone was created with the intent to help law enforcement downtown leverage technology to monitor crime events. A 2010 report by the Police Executive Research Forum indicates that though the effort was officially implemented in December 2004 by the city’s police department, “the program had roots dating back several years before that” (at least as far as 2001), to address the area’s “ick factor.”

“At the time, local agencies wanted to use knowledge from remote video technology to reduce the need for physical presence in all places at all times during a time when that technology was emerging,” the spokesperson added.

SafeZone has since evolved into a nonprofit that operates as part of the city’s Downtown Improvement District organization. While it no longer relies on Target’s donations, the retailer still supports and hosts initiatives with police throughout the country (like its decade-long Heroes and Helpers program).

Minneapolis police told MPR News in 2011 that they don’t use Target’s forensic services often, but they sometimes do (free of charge). The lab has also lent its technology to law enforcement outside of Minnesota, such as the Flint Township Police Department, to investigate a 2005 hit-and-run case.

In 2015, Target settled a $2.8 million hiring discrimination complaint filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC claimed the retailer had used three employee assessments that disproportionally weeded out applicants based on race, gender and ability.

Many locals on social media claimed the Lake Street location—which is in front of the Third Precinct police station that protesters overtook and burned down Thursday night—was also targeted because employees were apparently refusing to sell milk, baking soda and other supplies to aid those who had been sprayed with or exposed to chemical irritants. However, a video posted by a St. Paul resident on Twitter suggests that protesters were able to purchase milk from the Lake Street Target on May 26, the night before the bulk of the demonstrations began in the area.

Locals suggested the Midway location may have been targeted because it sits in what used to be St. Paul’s largest black neighborhood, Rondo, which served as a vibrant cultural and civil action center for the Twin Cities’ African American community for over a century before it was disrupted and decimated by the construction of an interstate highway. Rondo residents resisted construction efforts between 1956 and 1968, but police forcibly removed them from their homes. By the time I-94 opened, the booming mixed-income neighborhood had been fractured, displacing thousands in a discriminatory housing market.

Danielle Schumann, a spokeswoman for Target, told Business Insider that the company had closed the Lake Street location earlier than usual Wednesday to ensure the safety of its employees.

Following the protests at both locations, Target closed 32 of its Minnesota stores.

A promise to help, starting at home

Target CEO Brian Cornell told the StarTribune late Friday that he hopes to have the Lake Street store rebuilt by the end of the year, and that its 200 employees will be taken care of.

“We will make sure they have their full pay and benefits in the coming weeks, as well as access to other resources and opportunities within Target,” Cornell said in a statement, adding, “Target leaders are assembling community members, partners and local officials to help identify what more we can do together and what resources are required to help families, starting right here in Minnesota.”

Update: This story was updated on June 8 to include comments from a spokesperson for Target, as well as additional contextual information about the SafeZone program. The company also provided the following statement to Adweek: “Partnerships with law enforcement are important across the entire retail industry. For Target, our partnerships with police and first responders are central to keeping our communities, stores, team members and guests safe and secure. At the same time, we understand the grave concerns that are being raised and the need for holistic change. As we move through the coming days and weeks, we will be listening and learning to understand the role Target can play as our communities move forward.”

This story is developing. If you have any information about the George Floyd protests in the Twin Cities or elsewhere, please contact monica.zorrilla@adweek.com.

@monicroqueta monica.zorrilla@adweek.com Mónica is a breaking news reporter at Adweek.