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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

The Katzwer’s Out of the Bag: Sharing one day, savagery the next

Published: December 2, 2011
Section: Opinions, Top Stories

Children pepper sprayed in the face. Pregnant women shoved to the ground. Men trampled to death. Frenzied rioters just daring the police to step in and stop them. But don’t be mistaken—these are not downtrodden people fighting an oppressive government for the rights we consider basic to living; no, these are heartless people fighting each other for discounted televisions. This is not the Arab Spring. This is Black Friday.

Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is the official beginning of the Christmas shopping season in the United States. To celebrate the rampant consumerism this month represents, many stores open earlier than usual and offer “killer” discounts.

Historically, Black Friday has been crazy since about the ’70s. Recently, however, the day has become downright dangerous as people are willing to injure—and in some cases kill—others in their search for discount items.

This year was one of the worst years ever. Sociologists have suggested that so many people attended Black Friday this year and behaved so manically due to the struggling economy. I’m sorry but a struggling economy is no excuse for savagery.

In a Los Angeles Walmart, a woman pepper sprayed approximately 20 other customers in her rush to get at gaming consoles. This is, plain and simple, insane. Firstly, this woman actually brought pepper spray to the store with her—she planned this. Secondly, she sprayed children in the face, which is just so inherently wrong. Thirdly, she was not the only one acting like a nutjob at that Walmart.

The sale was set to begin at 10 p.m. Thursday night but Walmart allowed shoppers inside the store early so they could stake out prime positions. At 9:55 p.m. the crowd went wild and began tearing the plastic wrapping off of display cases, throwing merchandise to the floor, shoving people, trampling people, stealing and so on.

I think Black Friday is one of the worst examples of humanity we have. People can argue: No, genocide is the worst example. I would argue that the people who commit genocide are so disturbed that they do not even constitute humanity anymore. Black Friday shoppers are just like us but with an extra helping of crazy. That really frightens me.

And, again, you, a rational human being, are thinking: So one crazy lady brought pepper spray; that hardly speaks to an entire group of people. Pepper spray is fairly tame. At a Florida Walmart in 2010, a man was arrested for carrying a pepper spray grenade, two knives and a gun. Luckily, he was arrested before he could use any of them.

This was unfortunately not the case in 2008 when two men shot each other outside a California Walmart. Both men died … in front of their children.

By far the worst example of mob mentality, discount mania and just plain, old heartlessness occurred in a Long Island, NY, Walmart in 2008. The store was set to open at 5 a.m. Friday morning but the crowd of approximately 2,000 shoppers had grown restless. At 4:55 a.m. they pressed in on the sliding glass double doors, banging their fists on them and screaming “Let us in!”

The double doors, unable to take the weight of the mob, shattered. In poured 2,000 frenzied people who did not give a damn who they hurt in their quest for the $388 laptops marked down from $499.

Jdimytai Damour, 34, a part-time Walmart employee was almost instantly knocked to the ground and trampled by 2,000 people. (I keep repeating the number 2,000 because I am amazed at how many people behaved so callously.)

In this onslaught, an eight-month pregnant woman was trampled, resulting in a miscarriage. These people had a disgusting disregard for human life. An eight-month-old fetus has fully-formed lungs and can survive outside the womb. They killed a baby.

Meanwhile, Damour was still bleeding out on the floor as more feet came down on him. Other employees tried to get to Damour but they were trampled by the crowd as well and had to withdraw, watching as their co-worker was stampeded to death.

When police tried to enter the tumult to rescue Damour, shoppers shoved them out of the way. Then, when police had finally rescued Damour’s body, they attempted to close the store but shoppers refused to leave. They were informed that a man had just been murdered—and yes, trampling to death is murder—but they were insistent on getting their discounts.

One witness to this soul-crushing display said, “When [the police] were saying [the shoppers] had to leave, that an employee got killed, people were yelling, ‘I’ve been on line since yesterday morning.’ They kept shopping.”

I do not even think I need to say anything more about this because that disgusted and inconsolable feeling in the pit of your stomach right now should say it all.

I cannot understand why people go shopping on Black Friday anymore. Although this kind of stuff should not happen, it does. People should be aware of that. Also, the discounts are good but they are not good enough to risk death or permanent injury. We now have this amazing invention called the Internet and most of the Black Friday stores offer the same deals online. You can save $200 on a $1,500 television from the safety of your home now. Even more so, you should not be taking your children to Black Friday. I wish it were safe to bring children shopping the day after Thanksgiving but it is not and people need to remember that.

Of course, not all the blame goes with the amoral crowds—although most of it does. The stores also behave recklessly. They know what Black Friday is like; they have experienced it. And still they perform dangerous stunts, such as a snowfall of gift certificates. In 2006 in a California clothing store, 500 gift certificates were dropped from one central location onto a crowd of, yet again, 2,000 people. Imagine 2,000 people all rushing into a space about as big as the Shapiro Campus Center. It is not pretty.

And, every year, in order to attract more shoppers, stores have begun to open earlier and earlier. This year, Walmart opened at 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is a day—on paper at least—about sharing and family yet Walmart felt the need to rupture that by beginning Black Friday—which, as you can see from this article, they know to be utter chaos in their stores—on Thursday.

The prize for reckless inconsiderateness this year, however, goes to Toys “R” Us. This chain of toy stores opened its doors around the country at 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving. I thought this store was supposed to care about children.

Of course, not all stores acted like Walmart and Toys “R” US. P.C. Richard & Son went so far as to turn their Black Friday newspaper advertisement into a declamation against Walmart and Toys “R” Us for opening on Thanksgiving. They reminded those giants that it was unfair to their employees and was destroying the spirit of the holiday. They then thanked the people who provide essential services to us on Thanksgiving, such as doctors, nurses, policemen, firemen, etc. I applaud P.C. Richard & Son for having the cajones to say that in their ad rather than touting their sales.

So just remember: No sale is worth loss of life or insensible violence. A good deal should not make people behave like savages. Most importantly though, people do behave like barbarians, so do yourself a favor and stay safe at home next year.