Sunday, November 30, 2008


A very black “Black Friday”

You’ve all heard about this by now, of course — here, it’s been the only thing on the news other than the Mumbai attacks. A man was trampled to death at a Wal*Mart on Long Island, in the melée that is “Black Friday”:

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.

That’s crazy enough, but here’s the crazier part: the authorities are trying to look at the security tapes to try to see which shoppers were actually responsible for trampling the man.

No, no, no... that’s all wrong. The shoppers are responsible only to the extent that they were present, participating in the general madness. Beyond that, they had no control of their motions — they were carried along by the crowd, just as were all of those around them. In a moving mass like that, no one is steering, and those whose feet hit the poor man are no more culpable than those in front and to the left and right, who gave them nowhere else to go, or those behind, who propelled the throng.

The authorities should look, instead, to the ones who are really responsible for the crush in the first place: the store owners, and the retail industry in general. I’d like to see the store owners held responsible and charged with manslaughter for this. I’d like to see the retail industry and the advertisers charged with incitement to riot. Because that’s what this was: a riot. And that’s what’s being done with these advertisements for “Door busters!” and other Black Friday hype: they’re meant to whip crowds into hysteria and mayhem in the name of shopping. They are absolutely stirring riots.

And those responsible should be held accountable for it.


William M. Irwin said...

Sure, the businesses are responsible for creating this scenario for disaster. But I'll never understand people who camp out overnight just to be at the front of a line for something, just as I'll never understand the need that some seem to have for participating in events involving masses of people clustered together. I even wonder whether their stated aim in saving money is the primary motivating force in their decisions to participate in Black Friday.

JP Burke said...

Hear, hear. Incitement to riot is it precisely.

A mob, once formed, is not controlled. Therefore, stay out of mobs. But you don't go to a sale like this intending to be part of a mob; it's the responsibility of the store to have security in place so that their hype doesn't create a mob.

If their position is that it's the crowds fault, that's practically an admission that folks should have anticipated a mob. If the store is expecting a mob, then they're grossly irresponsible in advertising for people to join it.