Saturday, November 29, 2008

Black Friday Body Count

I woke up this morning to a story that is both a tragedy and an outrage. It happened early yesterday morning at a Wal-Mart in Green Acres Mall in Valley Stream, NY. Here's an excerpt from the New York Times article:

The throng of Wal-Mart shoppers had been building all night, filling sidewalks and stretching across a vast parking lot at the Green Acres Mall in Valley Stream, N.Y. At 3:30 a.m., the Nassau County police had to be called in for crowd control, and an officer with a bullhorn pleaded for order.

Tension grew as the 5 a.m. opening neared. Someone taped up a crude poster: “Blitz Line Starts Here.”

By 4:55, with no police officers in sight, the crowd of more than 2,000 had become a rabble, and could be held back no longer. Fists banged and shoulders pressed on the sliding-glass double doors, which bowed in with the weight of the assault. Six to 10 workers inside tried to push back, but it was hopeless.

Suddenly, witnesses and the police said, the doors shattered, and the shrieking mob surged through in a blind rush for holiday bargains. One worker, Jdimytai Damour, 34, was thrown back onto the black linoleum tiles and trampled in the stampede that streamed over and around him. Others who had stood alongside Mr. Damour trying to hold the doors were also hurled back and run over, witnesses said.

Some workers who saw what was happening fought their way through the surge to get to Mr. Damour, but he had been fatally injured, the police said. Emergency workers tried to revive Mr. Damour, a temporary worker hired for the holiday season, at the scene, but he was pronounced dead an hour later at Franklin Hospital Medical Center in Valley Stream.

Four other people, including a 28-year-old woman who was described as eight months pregnant, were treated at the hospital for minor injuries.

Detective Lt. Michael Fleming, who is in charge of the investigation for the Nassau police, said the store lacked adequate security. He called the scene “utter chaos” and said the “crowd was out of control.” As for those who had run over the victim, criminal charges were possible, the lieutenant said. “I’ve heard other people call this an accident, but it is not,” he said. “Certainly it was a foreseeable act.”

But even with videos from the store’s surveillance cameras and the accounts of witnesses, Lieutenant Fleming and other officials acknowledged that it would be difficult to identify those responsible, let alone to prove culpability.

Some shoppers who had seen the stampede said they were shocked. One of them, Kimberly Cribbs of Queens, said the crowd had acted like “savages.” Shoppers behaved badly even as the store was being cleared, she recalled.

“When they were saying they had to leave, that an employee got killed, people were yelling, ‘I’ve been on line since yesterday morning,’” Ms. Cribbs told The Associated Press. “They kept shopping.”

A caption under a photograph at AOL Money & Finance showing people lined up outside of the store reads: "Within hours of the trampling death of a Wal-Mart employee, Valley Stream, N.Y., customers had lined up behind crime scene tape, waiting for the retailer to reopen."

A description for a video of the aftermath taken with a cell phone camera says: "Crazy Black Friday Shoppers Stampede a man to death, then laugh and make jokes in the background."

They kept shopping.

They waited for the retailer to reopen.

They laughed and made jokes in the background.

It sounds almost trite to say that this shows the deadly character of greed and consumerism run amuck, but given the absolute disregard for human life displayed by this mob in their rush to shop, what else can be said?


Perpetua said...

I'm glad you linked the Black Friday at Walmart video with the positive Advent one. Do you know what sort of items were advertised as on sale at the Walmart? Inoticed on the comments to the video that some people thought the shoppers were very poor and this was the only way they could afford even inexpensive toys for their children for Christmas. But I had imagined this was for 50% off on expensive electronics, maybe flat screen tv's.

Bryan Owen said...

It boggles the mind, no matter how we look at it or what the motives driving these people to literally break down the doors and trample people to death might have been.

If there's any redemption here, perhaps it's to see it as a wake-up call. It's not just our values and priorities that are out of whack. This tragedy is a symptom of a diseased, sin-sick culture. Precisely the sort of sickness that Jesus came into the world to heal and to save us from.

Bryan Owen said...

I've just come across an interesting website called Buy Nothing Christmas. Seems like a pretty faithful antidote to the madness at this Wal-Mart.

Joe Rawls said...

I've been disgusted at the commercialization of Christmas for literally decades by now, and now we have to deal with people getting killed during the appropriately named Black Friday. (See today's Los Angeles Times for a similar incident at a Toys R Us in Palm Desert, Ca.) This makes me downright gleeful that retail might tank during this holiday season. Call me Scrooge.

Bryan Owen said...

In light of incidents like this, Joe, I'm beginning to see some real virtue in Scrooge. If what our consumer culture offers sums up Christmas, then I, too, would say, "Bah, humbug!"

Advent can't come soon enough this year. But will anybody notice?