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Sunday, November 30, 2008

Black Friday Indeed: Consumerism Kills

Reverend Billy, this is serious: we need you now more than ever.

On the Black Friday death by consumer frenzy of Wal-Mart employee Jdimytai Damour, Mr. Epp's RSS feed list points me to neighbor Dale at SW Minnesota's Corner House Comments, who says exactly what I was thinking on the long grey drive home yesterday.

The facts: about 2000 bargain hunters lined up at the Valley Stream Wal-Mart on Long Island in the wee hours Friday morning. They started pushing, busted the doors open a few minutes early, and trampled Mr. Damour to death. The sale-crazed shoppers put four other people in the hospital, including a pregnant woman. The rushing crowd also pushed aside workers who tried to assist Damour and others. Minutes later, when the store announced everyone had to leave due to the death and injuries, shoppers complained that they had been in line since Thursday morning and kept shopping.

The meaning: this is what unbridled consumerism gets us. 2,000 people participated in mass murder... or murder by the savage masses. 2,000 people killed a man, not for justice, not in some understandable (excusable?) panic from fire or flood, but for greed. It is sufficiently idiotic that in their burning desire to accumulate more cheap plastic junk from China, these Long Islanders—these fellow Americans—sacrificed sleep, family time, and even in some cases the entire Thanksgiving holiday. But Friday morning, they sacrificed a life, and their own humanity.

The consequences: Here's what should happen:

--Every identifiable shopper on the surveillance cameras who ran through those doors at 4:55 a.m. should be charged as an accessory to murder, arrested, booked, and scheduled for trial... on Friday, November 27, 2009. Hold the trial at Shea Stadium, require every defendant to check in by 5 a.m. Require each one testify publicly, on the Jumbotron, just what consumer product was so important that they had to kill a man to get it. No one leaves until every defendant has testified. Then dismiss the charges. We probably cannot gather sufficient evidence to establish the direct culpability of any one person, and our legal system isn't built to punish crowds. This public shaming and the denial of their precious shopping privileges next Black Friday is perhaps the best we can manage.

--Shut down Wal-Mart... for one day. Wal-Mart should close every one of its stores on Friday, November 27, 2009, to remind itself and the rest of us of the crime in which our shared avarice makes us all complicit. If Wal-Mart wants to continue that tradition and remain closed on every Black Friday, that's fine by me. But Wal-Mart needs at least once to say, "Our policies, our advertising, our pursuit of profit led to the death of an employee. People are more important than profit. We will sacrifice the profit of the biggest shopping day of the year, because it's not worth people dying."

--Require the networks to broadcast What Would Jesus Buy? every year on Thanksgiving. During the Thanksgiving football games and other programming that day, impose a modified Fairness Doctrine: for every five minutes of Black Friday sales ads, give Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping 30 seconds of PSA time.

--And the rest of us? Enjoy Thanksgiving. Sleep in. Refuse to roll out of bed at 2 a.m. for something as meaningless as cheap DVDs. Reject the hype of all those ads for door-buster sales—false urgency is a bedrock of marketing... but you can bet this junk will all be discounted again and again. And for Christ's sake (and this atheist uses phrase literally), remember what the holiday season is supposed to be about.

Update 14:00 CST: More on this story:


  1. I seriously could not believe this story. A person was killed by greedy people for products?! I can only imagine the pain that he suffered while being trampled to death. You are very right in believing that the murderers should be prosecuted and that Wal-Marts across America should close next year the day after Thanksgiving. "We've been waiting since Thursday mornings." I cannot believe those idiots!

  2. Normally, WalMart thrives on this kind of publicity and if it had simply been the doors getting knocked down, they would have loved the headlines. Unfortunately, they had a temp worker handling the front door, there was a surge from behind and crowd mentality took over. Walmart is responsible for this young man's death because they did not have proper security in place. These retailers encourage pandemonium by advertising the hottest and latest at bargain prices, then severely limiting supply so large crowds will come to the store and buy other profitable items. They created the problem and they will pay, at least financially, when the lawsuit is filed. The Bible says, "Thou shalt have no other gods before Me." In fact, it is the First Commandment. I wonder if gift buying has simply gone too extreme.

  3. Does this apply to Best Buy too? After all, they had somebody camping out there over two days!

  4. I appreciate the cause of stopping consumerism. However, the problem is rooted in our greed, not our practice. Therefore, I don't think that our society should take a legalistic approach, such as a modified "Fairness Doctrine." The only solution that I know is a stronger civic emphasis on Thanksgiving as the pilgrims of the 1600's have known it. They came from the England to New England without a penny (relatively speaking!). And they suffered through many tragedies. Yet they gave thanks for for everything, they have in both good and bad times and they were united in the purpose for spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

  5. I'm mostly with you, Conrad. A legislative solution won't cure a problem rooted in our souls. The shoppers involved need to put down the ad flyers and shopping lists and check their priorities. Wal-Mart needs to do some penance, not to bring a man back to life (if only it were that easy) but to say to itself and the country that something is deeply wrong with the values of our consumer society. If picking up the Gospels moves more folks toward that realization, I won't stand in the way.


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