By now, everyone has probably heard about the tragic death at a New York Wal-Mart Monday when a temporary employee, Jdimytai Damour, was stampeded by aproximately 2000 shoppers attempting to enter the store for the annual Black Friday sale. There have been many blogs going on about this all weekend now and no small amount of hand-wringing and finger-pointing. Personally, when I am reading these blogs, I always make it a point to read through the comments because that is where you find the most telling cross-sections of humanity.
Most of the fingers, in this case, appear to be pointing squarely at the corporate entity of Wal-Mart. While I am not surprised by this, I am a little disheartened.
Let's get the details out of the way. Early that morning, police responded to an unruly crowd and told that crowd to settle down and play nice. The police then left. Do keep that sentence in mind for later examination. By the time the store was scheduled to be opening, there were aproximately 2000 people waiting to enter. These people, apparently responding to some action inside which they interpreted as the store opening, began to push forward. The store was not, in fact opening and employees attempted to physically block the doors with their own manual strength (A for effort, but an utterly impossible task under the circumstances). The surging crowd pushed forward with such force that the outer doors were actually broken open. That tidal wave of people crashed into the store and Jdimytai Damour was killed in the process. According to multiple witnesses (both employee and customer) as well as multiple cameras, people continued to step over Mr. Damour even after it should have been plainly obvious that he was at least critically injured. This crowd even continued to plow through emergency workers who were trying to save Damour's life. Once it was announced that there had been a death and the store had to be evacuated, people complained and some even balked at having to leave.
Those are the details. Disgusting enough for you?
The police later said that the store's security was not adequate to the crowd. These are the same police who saw the crowd and left, remember. These are also the same crowd who had to approve of the store's security measures before the sale. After the tragedy is a fine time for them to say that things were not adequate.
Could Wal-Mart have done more? Of that there is no doubt. It is always possible to have done more and hindsight is 20/20. I used to work for Wal-Mart and I have worked one of these sales. I don't mind telling you it was one of the most nerve-wracking moments of my life and my store was a 24-hour store so there was no mad rush to enter in the morning. These Black Friday sales are certainly dangerous and stores do need to do more to keep that in mind.
However, it is not the stores' fault that these sales are dangerous (never mind the comment on one blog suggesting that people are being programmed to behave a certain way by predatory merchandising tactics). The stores must claim some responsibility because they set the nature of the environment and control the safety of the environment, but they are not puppet masters pulling the strings of unruly shoppers.
The average shopper today is unruly when there is not a special sale occuring. Manners have gone right out the window and that is our fault, not the fault of companies or merchants. This, though, goes way beyond manners. This goes to outright barbarity.
While I have no doubt that there were many people in that crowd who were innocent - I fully realize that one does not argue with the forward momentum of a mob - was there anyone who came to his or her senses once inside and free of the press of bodies? There is no indication that this is true. Someone had to realize that their feet were coming down upon a human body and that someone did not turn back to determine the fate of that human body. Wal-Mart is not to blame for that and neither are the police.
It was not a surging mob that caused people to jostle the emergency workers. By that time, the mob surge had dissipated. Wal-Mart is not to blame for that and neither are the police.
It was not mob mentality that caused people to balk at leaving the store when it was discovered that someone had died. Even greed cannot acount for that. That was nothing more than callous disregard for human life. Wal-Mart is not to blame for that and neither are the police.
My first response upon reading about this tragedy was that everyone involved should be arrested and charged with manslaughter, at the very least. I stand by this response even though I know that actually succeeding at this effort will be an almost impossible task. Separating the guilty from those who were almost as much victims as was Mr. Damour will be no simple undertaking. Having said that, I do hope that those responsible are sitting at home right now with a full understanding of what they have done and why they did it. I hope they now feel every cent of the price they paid for those bargains.