There’s a history of Target stores being, well, targeted during protests against police violence. This happened swiftly last summer, with a Target store in South Minneapolis looted within days of police killing George Floyd. After a Minneapolis community member noted that the store was an “experimental site” for surveillance and criminalization tactics “geared toward poor people,” a Target spokesperson responded: “We use the same technology and tools in this location as we do across our stores.”
That clarification – along with emails we recently obtained from LAPD chief Michel Moore – hints at a deep collaborative relationship between the retailer and police forces across the country. Shortly before 7pm on May 27, barely 48 hours after police killed George Floyd, Mahogany Eller from Target’s Government Affairs sent Moore an email with the subject line, “Issues in Minneapolis – Translating to LA?” The email began, “At Target HQ we often discuss that when all is said and done, we believe history will say that California got it right.”
It remains unclear what Eller meant by, “California got it right.” Maybe she had in mind LAPD’s racist algorithmic policing programs and well-documented patterns of discriminatory police stops. Eller has been with Target since at least 2004. Her LinkedIn profile described her work as “public safety strategic partnerships” until the profile was taken offline after the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition published her emails with Moore in late March.
Moore replied quickly to Eller’s May 27 email, telling her that “a BLM organized demo” in Los Angeles had featured “verbal assaults on our people.” As thousands of Angelenos braved police batons and tear gas to condemn police violence, Moore was griping to a representative of Target’s corporate leadership that people yelled at his riot cops. The next day, Eller responded: “The Minneapolis 3rd Precinct is in flames and belongs to protesters now.” Soon after, Moore held a press conference blaming George Floyd’s killing on protestors: “His death is on their hands, as much as it is on those officers,” he announced.
INVESTIGATE – COLLABORATE – INCARCERATE
Eller later sent a photo of hundreds of NYPD officers standing outside a Target, along with the message “love to LAPD from Target HQ.” Moore replied: “Don’t see us having this type of staffing ability.. :)” Moore later added: “We couldn’t muster the 200 cops NYPD did but the people we did put there stood tall.” As protests spread in Los Angeles, another Target employee emailed, “LAPD was AMAZING for us. Assistant Chief of Operations Robert Arcos was my point of contact and even last night at 1am he was texting me with updates.”
These candid emails offer a glimpse into Target’s long relationship with LAPD and other police forces across the country. For years Target has helped police departments expand their surveillance and violence. In 2007, Police Chief Bill Bratton persuaded Target to donate $200,000 for LAPD to buy Palantir technology, which the Department used to build out its architecture of surveillance and racial profiling. The city has since paid Palantir over $17 million for ongoing services. Palantir was instrumental to LAPD’s Operation LASER “predictive” policing program, which used data-mining to target people for extreme surveillance and police harassment. In 2019, following a yearslong community organizing campaign, the program was shut down.
Target also helped fund a network of LAPD fusion centers for real-time surveillance of the community. “Target and LAPD Partner to launch new crime fighting capabilities,” LAPD declared in a news release, promising that these spy hubs – called Regional Crime Centers – would ensure “increases in the number of arrests, collaborative law enforcement efforts and cooperation between LAPD and our private sector partners.” An LAPD brochure reiterated that the purpose of these spy centers was to help police collaborate with businesses to cage people. Alongside Target’s logo with the text “sponsored by Target™” the brochure declared: “INVESTIGATE – COLLABORATE – INCARCERATE.”
Target has built surveillance architecture in other cities too. Over the years, Target convened police officials from across the country at its Minneapolis headquarters to develop the Safe City program. In 2006, the Washington Post described the program as “modeled after a community surveillance program in England.” It went on: “Safe City uses video and computer equipment to help police patrol neighborhoods by remote control, coordinated with security workers at participating businesses.” A report Target released on the program lists surveillance that Target funded in several cities, including a network of cameras and license plate readers in Compton. After Target donated initial equipment, the company boasted that the City of Compton “dedicated $2 million to build out this system and install cameras in approximately 56 different intersections and several city parks throughout the city.”
Target also pays prosecutors to aggressively criminalize poverty. In Minneapolis, Target funded staff in the prosecutor’s office tasked with “prosecuting repeat criminals.” Amy Klobuchar, the county’s head prosecutor at the time, boasted that Target “doesn’t just give us money – they demand accountability.” Target also runs forensic crime laboratories that lend their services to police, and it trains police forces on topics like “the use of social media in policing.”
In explaining its work with police, Target has likened the company’s management of “inventory” to policing’s management of human beings. Prison abolitionists often say incarceration is “warehousing” of humans, a continuation of enslavement treating Black people as property. That’s also how Target’s Vice President for Government Affairs explained the company’s role, proudly telling the Washington Post, “it struck me that following repeat criminals was really an inventory-management problem.” Target in turn “applied in-store practices, such as inventory-tracking technologies, to the business of identifying and locating criminals.”
Remember those words – along with the LAPD “Sponsored by Target” slogan of “Investigate Collaborate Incarcerate” – the next time people harmed by policing riot at a Target. And just as the people rising up to riot know who profits from their pain, communities looking to dismantle policing need to confront not only police departments but also the broader industry that supports state violence.
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