Target CEO Brian Cornell says George Floyd ‘could have been one of my Target team members’

Target CEO Brian Cornell
Brian Cornell, CEO of Target.

  • George Floyd, who was murdered last year by a Minneapolis police officer, could have been a Target employee, CEO Brian Cornell said.
  • Floyd’s murder took place “just blocks away” from the company’s Minneapolis headquarters, Cornell said.
  • Cornell called the conviction of the officer involved a sign of progress and accountability.
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Target CEO Brian Cornell has been particularly outspoken about the murder of George Floyd last year by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who was convicted of the crime last week.

“It happened only blocks from our headquarters,” the CEO of the Minnesota-based retail giant told the Economic Club of Chicago on Tuesday. “My first reaction watching on TV was that could have been one of my Target team members.”

In the conversation with Mary Dillon, CEO of Ulta Beauty and incoming chair of the club, Cornell discussed the steps the company has taken to address the issues raised by Floyd’s death, including law enforcement’s treatment of Black Americans and racial inequity.

“For so many of us, we saw that verdict as a sign of progress, a sign of accountability, but also a recognition that the work is just starting and there’s much more work that we have to do,” Cornell said.

Floyd’s death, which was caught on video, led to widespread protests last summer and calls for an examination of systemic racism in the country.

Target has since gathered a special committee focused on supporting Black employees and expanding business with Black-owned vendor partners.

Earlier in April, the company announced it would spend more than $2 billion on black-owned businesses by 2025 by purchasing goods from more than 500 Black-owned businesses and contracting with Black-owned services from marketing to construction.

Cornell says addressing these challenges should not be delegated to someone else in the C-suite.

“As CEOs we have to be the company’s head of diversity and inclusion,” he said. “We’ve got to make sure that we represent our company principles, our values, our company purpose on the issues that are important to our teams.”

The $93 billion company now has more than 1900 stores, and more than a third are led by people of color, Cornell said. His executive leadership team and board are similarly diverse, he said.

Lawmakers in Washington have renewed calls to boost the minimum wage to $15 per hour, though some retailers say the move would lead to higher prices and potentially fewer jobs. Advocates for boosting the minimum wage point to research that shows higher wages reduce inequality and will pull many workers out of poverty.

Target instituted a $15 hourly starting wage in 2017.

“There were a lot of naysayers. In fact, many people didn’t actually expect that target would be here today but those investments have proved incredibly beneficial.” A forthcoming distribution center in Chicago will have a starting wage of $18 per hour and provide over 2,000 jobs, he added.

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Virginia has moved closer to abolishing the death penalty in a watershed moment for the Southern state

Virginia state capitol
The Virginia State Capitol in Richmond.

With a key legislative vote on Friday, Virginia is on the cusp of abolishing the death penalty, a watershed moment for a state that long embraced the practice as an anti-crime deterrent.

The Democratic-controlled House of Delegates voted 57-41 to end the death penalty, with 54 Democrats and three Republicans backing the measure, according to The Richmond Times-Dispatch.

On Wednesday, the Democratic-controlled state Senate voted on a 21-17 party-line vote to approve a similar measure.

With Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam in support of an abolition bill, Virginia is set to join 22 other states that have ended capital punishment and become the first Southern state to end the practice.

Larry Sabato, a longtime political analyst at the University of Virginia, told The Richmond Times-Dispatch that for decades, such an action would have been difficult to imagine.

“In the 20th century, few would have thought this was likely to happen at all, much less that Virginia would be the first in the South to eliminate capital punishment,” he said. “It shows dramatically how different the new Virginia is from the old.”

Virginia has executed nearly 1,400 people since 1608 – with 113 of the killings occuring after the Supreme Court paved the way for executions to restart in 1976 as a result of Gregg v. Georgia, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Read more: Inside the 7-minute virtual workouts the Biden transition team used to stay connected as staffers prepared to demolish Trump’s policies

Democratic state Delegate Mike Mullin, a prosecutor who introduced the House legislation, said having a death penalty creates the risk of errors.

“There are many arguments for why we should abolish the death penalty,” he said. “These arguments touch on everything from the moral implications of the death penalty, to the racial bias in how it is applied, to its ineffectiveness, to the extraordinary cost.”

He added: “Perhaps the strongest argument for abolishing the death penalty is that a justice system without the death penalty allows us the possibility of being wrong.”

In 1985, Earl Washington Jr. came within days of being executed for a rape and murder that he did not commit.

After spending 17 years in prison, with many of them on death row, Washington was released in 2001 after more extensive DNA testing, unavailable in earlier years, proved his innocence.

Republican Delegate Jason Miyares, a former prosecutor, defended the use of the death penalty for “worst of the worst” murderers and said that the victims and their loved ones have been largely sidelined in the debate.

“If there is one word to describe what happened to these victims, it is just cruelty – unimaginable cruelty on a scale that’s hard to even process,” he said. “They died with sheer terror on their hearts with people often taunting them.” 

He added: “It’s not vengeance, it’s justice.”

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Prosecutors have dominated the bench for too long. We need more public defenders to become judges

US Army courtroom court martial lawyers judge advocate general JAG
The 167th Theater Sustainment Command Judge Advocate General section finished a year-long training exercise with a mock court martial at the Calhoun County Courthouse, Anniston, Alabama, Augusty 7-8, 2018.

  • Prosecutors and corporate lawyers are overrepresented on state and federal courts.
  • Unequal treatment in the justice system limits people’s social mobility and keeps them trapped in cycles of poverty.
  • To better protect vulnerable populations, more public defenders should be appointed to judicial seats.
  • Brendon Woods is the only Black chief public defender in California.
  • Emily Galvin Almazna is a former public defender and co-founder of Partners for Justice.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the authors.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

As public defenders, it’s been hard to watch the defacement of our federal courts by the Trump administration. 

From the Supreme Court on down, the country’s judicial benches are occupied by fewer people who have fought for compassion over cages. For every public defender on the federal bench, there are four former prosecutors -and the ratio is seven to one if you expand the comparison to lawyers who represented people instead of just lawyers who represented the government. 

State and federal judicial posts are packed with individuals who have spent their careers defending corporate polluters, protecting big real estate, or filling our jails and prisons, leaving ordinary people looking for the protection of the courts out in the cold. 

In 2011, former Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg suggested  that her history of fighting for civil rights would likely have disqualified her from her SCOTUS seat had she been nominated these days. And with no one left on SCOTUS who has personally fought for civil rights, it is now clear that to take the smallest steps toward justice we must appoint more public defenders to the bench.

Finding the right lawyers for the bench

There’s a dirty secret every public defender knows: defense lawyers don’t always make the best judges. For every person who promises to increase freedom and justice and actually does so, there are many former defenders who seem hell-bent on harming our clients. 

There are several possible reasons for this. Sometimes the initial zeal these now-judges had to protect the most vulnerable eroded over decades of political ambition. Sometimes they had to prove how carceral they could be in order to get the job. And sometimes they have lost their original ideals to the system’s jail-happy culture. 

Many of these burnt out defense lawyers who take judgeships assume everyone who appears in front of them pleading for mercy is a liar. They assume guilt. They hand out years.

To people like these, being a public defender was a job description. But for others, being a public defender is not a job, but an identity. It’s an identity that prioritizes the needs of the most marginalized and makes sure that every person is fought for and empowered. Attorneys who share this identity believe that the people most impacted by structural racism and systemic harms are the people whose visions will bring us toward a new, more just world.

We need more public defenders whose ascent to the bench is driven by this identity, and fewer who ascend through craven ambition. Judges for whom “justice” means maximizing individual liberty, inclusion, and opportunity for people rather than corporations and other entities. Liberty, after all, is a thing all too often reserved for the wealthy in this country. 

Companies who want to frack or engage in unfair practices are often afforded the liberty to thrive, while ordinary individuals are handed harsh punishments that both steal their freedom and undermine their ability to succeed in the years to come. This practice of offering liberty to the wealthy and powerful and punishment to the rest of us, hamstrings the social and economic mobility not only of the people in the system, but their families and entire communities. In short, offering liberty and a chance at prosperity to people in the system makes whole communities and regions safer, healthier, and more productive.

We are finally recognizing that prosecutors and corporate lawyers aren’t champions of liberty. And we have the ability to identify the public interest lawyers who are such champions. We need to be more demanding of who we choose for the most powerful office in our judicial system. We must seek out a value system and a form of bravery rather than checking a prior-job box.

People need to start caring about judicial nominations, and telling their elected officials who they’d like to see on the bench. And most of all, we have to demand that the loudest voices among us -our nightly news, our local papers -break away from the law enforcement narrative that judges must be “tough-on-crime” and extensions of the carceral state. 

If we want liberty and justice for all, if we want perspectives like RBG’s, we have to demand it, make space for it, and put judges on the bench who will do it.

Brendon Woods is the only Black chief public defender in California. Emily Galvin Almazna is a former public defender and co-founder of Partners for Justice.

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