Friday, November 28, 2008

The Angry Consumer: Black Friday Death at Wal-Mart

At five a.m. today, a 34-year-old Wal-Mart employee was trampled to death by bargain-hunting shoppers in Long Island, New York.

An AP report said:

"'He was bum-rushed by 200 people,' co-worker Jimmy Overby, 43, told the Daily News. "They took the doors off the hinges. He was trampled and killed in front of me. They took me down too. . . . I literally had to fight people off my back.

". . . A police statement said . . . shoppers 'physically broke down the doors, knocking [the worker] to the ground.' A metal portion of the door was crumpled like an accordion. "

. . . [Before police temporarily shut down the store], eager shoppers streamed past emergency crews as they worked furiously to save the worker's life."

Several other people were injured, including a 28-year-old pregnant woman who was knocked to the floor. She was taken to the hospital for observation.

The NY Daily News reported:

"'They were working on him, but you could see he was dead,' said Halcyon Alexander, 29. 'People were still coming through.'

"Only a few stopped."

An updated AP report added:

"'This crowd was out of control,' said Nassau police spokesman Lt. Michael Fleming. He described the scene as 'utter chaos.'

"Dozens of store employees trying to fight their way out to help the man were also getting trampled by the crowd, Fleming said. Witnesses said that even as the worker lay on the ground, shoppers streamed into the store, stepping over him.

"Kimberly Cribbs, who witnessed the stampede, said shoppers were acting like 'savages.'"

These were not people in a country ravaged by war or natural disaster, desperately trying to get food or water to keep themselves and their families alive; these people were clawing their way into a mega-store to get cheap prices on stuff. Savages, indeed.

Police are reviewing the store security videos and it is possible that there may be criminal charges brought against some shoppers.

But when does our society get indicted for making a $400 TV more valuable than a human life?

© 2008 Cynthia Friedlob

Continued . . .

At 4:30 this afternoon, the LA Times online reported that two people were shot to death at a Toys 'R' Us in Palm Desert, California. According to the Times, it was apparently "a personal dispute between two groups of shoppers."


Jeri Dansky said...

I just read the New York Times story, via Consumerist, and wondered if you would be writing about it. You have lots of company in your anger, reading the comments on Consumerist.

How incredibly sad.

Cynthia Friedlob said...

Thanks for the link, Jeri.

Regrettably, I've had to modify my post to report the deaths of two people in a shoot-out at a Palm Desert Toys 'R' Us.

This is insane.

Frisky Librarian (formerly known as GleeGirl) said...

I don't know whether to cry, scream or throw up. These are among the most appalling things I have heard in a long time. I sometimes feel very, very pessimistic about the future of the human race (since when did race refer to the "race for crazy discounted goods").

In Melbourne, Australia, where I live, huge stocktake sales that kicked off on Boxing Day were scaled back due to people getting hurt in the throng that surged through the doors at opening time. Let's hope sanity and humanity prevails over there.

Cynthia Friedlob said...

Thanks for your comment, Ms. Frisky Librarian.

The Wal-Mart incident definitely is appalling. I am still thinking about it today and feeling very badly for that poor young man and his family. I wish that his completely unnecessary death would result in the end of the ridiculous practice of shoppers camping out for hours prior to an early morning store opening and the resulting frantic rush.

Good to know that retailers have scaled back in your part of the world. Maybe a gigantic lawsuit will provide enough motivation for stores to make changes here, too.

Anonymous said...


I am sorry, I think this has more to do with proper crowd control and security than with overzealous shoppers. The safety expert at Wal-Mart should have installed proper procedures to minimize this kind of activity (perhaps this person, or the manager, should be fired). For the NY Times to say that local police "pleaded" with shoppers to maintain order tells me too that they should have shut the store down and sent everyone home, or at least called in more police support through the morning. I betcha one cop car showed up... with two officers, not enough to stop a riot of 1000 people.

The "white sale stampede" has been around for decades, if not more. It's a horrible tragedy that someone lost their life in this mess.

Cynthia Friedlob said...

Anonymous, thanks for your comment.

I agree with you that there was insufficient security and crowd control. But the sad reason crowds need control is because the individuals in them too often get caught up in behavior that would be out of character under other circumstances.

Crowds take on a life of their own: witness the deaths in crowds at rock concerts or soccer games -- or political mobs that riot.

The police, had there been a sufficient number of them, might have been able to disperse the crowd prior to opening time, or the crowd might have rioted. We'll never know.

It's true that the special sales have been around for a long time and anyone who's ever lived through a big one (say, at Filene's Basement!) knows that the battles for merchandise have always been intense. It's fortunate that there haven't been more injuries and deaths.

I'd like to believe that the individuals who literally broke down the doors and stomped over and past a man lying on the floor, who was obviously seriously injured, would have had more compassion had they not been in the frenzied state created by standing in line for many hours, waiting to get a "bargain." I hope at least some of them felt remorse and weren't just glad they saved a few bucks.

And, even though the store was remiss in its security precautions, I still think anyone who knocked this man to the ground, stepped on him and ultimately crushed him to death, participated in assault. Alas, I suppose a slick lawyer could get those shoppers off with pleas of "temporary insanity."

Alex Fayle | Someday Syndrome said...

I'm with you Cynthia in your response to Anonymous. I think having proper crowd control measures takes away any and all personal responsibility from the shoppers. "It's not my fault" they can say. "There wasn't proper control."

Bah! Everyone is responsible for his or her actions. Period.

Cynthia Friedlob said...

Thanks, Alex. Good to hear from you!

Here's another one of the shocking aspects of this incident from the AP report that day, quoting Kimberly Cribbs, the witness who said the shoppers were acting like "savages":

"When they (security) were saying (the shoppers) had to leave, that an employee got killed, people were yelling 'I've been on line since yesterday morning,'" she said. "They kept shopping."

Pretty reprehensible behavior and rather depressing to contemplate. I hope most people are not so heartless.

And this is supposed to be the season of good will toward all!

Anonymous said...

I did not mean to discount people's personal actions.... surely everyone is accountable for their behaviors. The prob is, we'll never know for sure until they do an analysis of the situation.

Cynthia Friedlob said...

I agree, Anonymous, that the incident needs to be scrutinized carefully to find out exactly what happened and how it could have been prevented. I hope that the follow-up information will be adequately covered by the media.

Here's a brief story at, another one from Reuters about the family filing a wrongful death lawsuit, and here's a blog I happened to discover where people are debating this issue. Also, here's a series of photos taken at the scene, now on the Daily News website.

Wal-mart, a company notorious for its lack of benefits for its employees, failed to provide adequate security and I'm sure they'll pay dearly in the lawsuit. But, in addition, the crowd turned into a mob, just to save a few dollars. These are very sad statements of what we value in our society.