The macabre website “Black Friday Death Count” — which has been getting some press recently — says the first death resulting from the post-Thanksgiving tradition came in 2008.
That’s the year a “gentle giant” named Jdimytai Damour was killed amid throngs of Wal-Mart shoppers seeking Black Friday deals on Long Island, The New York Times reported at the time. The horrific idea that shoppers’ greed could cost a temporary Wal-Mart worker his life made the story grab national headlines.
Years later, in 2011, The New Yorker published a fascinating story called “Crush Point,” which shed some light on the 2008 tragedy at Wal-Mart and on stampedes in general.
Here’s what happened at the Valley Stream, N.Y. Wal-Mart in 2008, according to the story.
Shoppers began lining up outside the store on Thanksgiving Day at 5:30 p.m. There were 1,000 people by 2 a.m., and police were called to help with crowd control. But police said it wasn’t their job to manage the throngs of shoppers, and they left the scene.
Eight of the store’s biggest workers were told to stand by the vestibule as the doors opened, including Damour, a 480-pound son of Haitian immigrants who reportedly loved Japanese anime and politics. Damour, 34, was a temporary worker who’d been working in the Wal-Mart stockroom for a week.
Just before the store’s 5 a.m. opening, Damour was hit by a sliding glass door that fell as shoppers outside pressed against it. His eyes were rolled back in his head by the time his co-workers got to him. The cause of death was asphyxia, meaning he was essentially suffocated by the crowd.
After the 2008 incident, that crowd was (somewhat understandably) vilified in the press. One Wal-Mart employee spoke to The New York Daily News and summed up his sadness and disbelief this way: “How could you take a man’s life to save $US20 on a TV?”
Damour probably did not die because of sheer callousness, however. The 2011 New Yorker story explains the dynamics of mobs like the one formed at the Long Island Wal-Mart. Here’s how that story describes “crowd crush:”
Individuals at the back of a crowd, unable to tell what is happening up ahead, push forward, not realising that they are injuring the people in the front. Unlike ants and fish and birds, humans haven’t evolved the capability to transmit information about the physical dynamics of the crowd across the entire swarm.
The thrust of that explanation is that the people in parts of the crowd didn’t realise the damage they were doing. That’s why crowd control is so important. After the 2008 tragedy, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) found that Wal-Mart hadn’t properly trained its workers on crowd control.
Wal-Mart was fined a mere $US7,000. The Huffington Post recently reported that the retail giant is still fighting the OSHA penalty.
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