“It was crazy,” said a worker in the electronics department who was in the store during the stampede. “The deals weren’t even that good.”
~ New York Times, November 29, 2008
Frieda and I were together after Thanksgiving when we heard the tragic news about Jdimytai Damour, a Wal-Mart employee who was trampled to death by a mob of early morning shoppers in Valley Stream, NY. Several of our favorite blogs, including What About Our Daughters and The Root’s Keith Josef Adkins, have already expressed their outrage and sadness over this incident. And like them, we offer our deepest condolences to the Damour family.
I read the horrifying account of consumers who ran over and around this man’s body without offering aid, and of those who defiantly continued shopping after hearing about his death. I can only hope that the people whose actions – directly or indirectly – led to Damour’s death will be held responsible.
But after I stumbled on the above quote by an unnamed Wal-Mart employee in this article, I felt compelled to reflect more deeply on what I can learn from this awful moment, if only so that Damour’s death means something more to me than the so-called Black Friday discounts that “weren’t even that good.”
I’ve been considering the words that the newspapers have used to describe the scene. The shoppers are a “rabble”, a “stampede”, a “horde”, a “shrieking mob.” Their disembodied fists and shoulders are said to have “assaulted” the front doors until the thick glass shattered. In blurry pictures, taken just minutes before the store opened, there is only a sea of grim, anticipating faces in the cold. After the incident, the New York Daily News has cell phone video clips of EMT works hunched over a body that we know is already dead.
There are unacknowledged racial and socio-economic implications in the descriptions of these “frenzied” and “wild-eyed” shoppers. But the desperation that gives rise to this kind of mob violence crosses all boundaries, fueling hate-filled lynching parties and self-destructive urban riots alike. To see this mentality driven by America’s toxic consumerism in the midst of the holiday season is especially sickening.
Judging the faceless culprits in Damour’s death is much easier, however, than confronting my own thoughtless materialism. This tragedy has unwittingly forced me to take a hard look at myself, at the shrieking mob that claws at my own throat around the holidays. Too often a sense of gratitude for the people I love is crushed under the stampede for things, things, things. Frankly, I have come to loathe the holidays and the stressful travel, high credit card bills, and miserable overindulgence that it brings. A couple of years ago I got into a car accident as an aggressive Volvo jockeyed for my space in a crowded mall parking lot. No DVD player is worth a fender bender. Or a man’s life.
After Thanksgiving, Frieda and I decided that we want to celebrate Christmas differently this year, perhaps by exchanging favorite poems, recipes, or photos. Perhaps by volunteering for others, or finding activities that don’t cost a dime. We welcome your suggestions and stories as we nurture new traditions, ones that remind us that, like Jdimytai Damour, we are so much more than the disposable things that a discount store has to offer.
Photo by ismasan via Flickr