Black Friday was a disgrace
The Friday after Thanksgiving has come to be known as Black Friday. It is a chaotic day characterized by sales, shopping and throngs of people. Black Friday is perhaps the busiest shopping day of the year. The term "Black Friday" was coined because it is the day that retailers typically become profitable for the year or go "into the black."
This year Black Friday took a more sinister tone as a greeter was trampled and killed at the Valley Stream Wal-Mart in Long Island. The greeter, Mr. Jdimytai Damour of Queens, was a temporary employee hired by Wal-Mart in anticipation of the shopping surge. Even before the store opened at 5 a.m. a crowd of nearly 2,000 had gathered outside the doors. Around 5 a.m. the crowd would wait no longer and pushed forward in a wave of mob mentality. As the mob pushed forward, it broke the door off the hinges and knocked Mr. Damour to the ground. Another employee claimed he had to fight off customers and that other employees were unable to assist Mr. Damour, who was trampled to death.
Black Friday is the day of the year when retailers offer a variety of sales. Some sales include slashing the prices of expensive durable goods. The catch is that the sales may only apply to a very limited number of items that are typically taken by the first few customers in the store. Thus it becomes imperative to bargain shoppers that they be there first to claim the prize. In addition to being misleading, these tactics are also dangerous and should be stopped.
Stores that offer these events are creating ideal conditions for a mob mentality to develop. When hundreds or thousands of people show up at a store competing for roughly a dozen items, it becomes difficult to maintain order. Nassau police spokesman Lt. Michael Fleming described the crowd as "out of control." He rightfully criticized the lack of security amidst a scene of "utter chaos."
If this were the first such occurrence it would be an occasion for sadness. But this is not the first time a mob has stampeded at retail stores on Black Friday. In 2005, a human wave knocked a 73-year old woman to the ground and trampled her at the Sawgrass Mills Mall in Broward County, Florida. On Black Friday 2006, a human stampede at a Wal-Mart in Grand Rapids, Michigan caused injuries to an elderly woman who had to be taken to a hospital. This year, two individuals in Palm Desert, California shot and killed each other arguing over an item at a Toys 'R' Us store.
While the actions of these mobs are sickening, the retail stores are also culpable in this human drama. Large retailers know what to expect on Black Friday. The past few Black Fridays all contained cases where throngs of eager shoppers trampled and injured each other to get to the sales. By not providing extra security, the retail stores have shown that they are unwilling to attempt to control the mob mentality that inevitably develops.
It may be difficult to hold the individuals legally liable, as it is nearly impossible to pin the blame on a specific person. The entire mob is at fault. The retail stores, by knowing what will occur and failing to take preventive measures, are at fault. As a society we are willing to limit certain expressions of speech, such as yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater, since a stampede and injury may result. Why are we willing to allow large retail stores to create similar conditions and bear no responsibility for their actions?
Certain stores, such as Best Buy, have found creative solutions to this dangerous situation. During this year's Black Friday shopping rush, Best Buy issued tickets for the big sale items on a first-come, first-served basis. This removes any incentive for people to rush into the store so that they may be the first person in the electronics section. The ticket method rewards those who arrived early and should be adopted by all large retailers.
Alexander Draine is a Rutgers College senior majoring in economics. His column, "Draine on Society," runs on alternate Tuesdays.