30 November 2008

via Blood & Treasure:

An employee at Wal-Mart was killed yesterday when “out-of-control” shoppers broke down the doors at a sale at the discount giant’s store in Long Island, New York.

Other workers were trampled as they tried to rescue the man and at least four other people, including a woman who was eight months pregnant, were taken to hospitals for observation or minor injuries following the incident.

Customers shouted angrily and kept shopping when store officials said they were closing because of the death, police and witnesses said. The store, in Valley Stream on Long Island, closed for several hours before reopening.

Nassau county police said about 2,000 people were gathered outside the store doors at the mall about 20 miles east of Manhattan. The impatient crowd knocked the man, identified by police as Jdimytai Damour,34, of the New York city borough of Queens, to the ground as he opened the doors, leaving a metal portion of the frame crumpled like an accordion.

Shoppers stepped over Damour as he lay on the ground and streamed into the store. When told to leave, they complained that they had been in line since Thursday morning for the Black Friday sale that traditionally follows the Thanksgiving holiday…

…Dozens of store employees trying to fight their way out to help Damour were also trampled by the crowd, the police spokesman added. Items on sale at the store included a Samsung 50-inch plasma high-definition TV for $798 (£520), a Samsung 10.2 megapixel digital camera for $69 and DVDs such as The Incredible Hulk for $9.

Almost exactly one year ago:

Three people died and 31 others were injured in a stampede as shoppers scrambled for cut-price cooking oil at a Carrefour store in China on Saturday, Xinhua news agency reported.

The tragedy came during a promotion to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the founding of the store in Shapingba district in southwest China.

People began queuing in the early hours of Saturday to buy the cooking oil, said Gao Chang, a spokesman for the Shapingba district government. When the shop opened for business, throngs of people burst in and a mass stampede occurred.

Both incidents have prompted soul searching. From the New York Times a title bursting with hyperbole*, A Shopping Guernica Captures the Moment:

In a sense, the American economy has become a kind of piñata — lots of treats in there, but no guarantee that you will get any, making people prone to frenzy and sending some home bruised.

It seemed fitting then, in a tragic way, that the holiday season began with violence fueled by desperation; with a mob making a frantic reach for things they wanted badly, knowing they might go home empty-handed.

From Southern Metropolitan Daily’s less colorfully titled The Social Problems Embedded in 11 Yuan:

However, when people feel that they can benefit more from not following the rules than from following them, then someone who lines up honestly will probably get nothing. Such a reality leads people to ignore the system because the cost of following the rules is too high. Uncertainty about tomorrow makes people trust only what they can see in front of them; they own only what they can get their hands on. Who knows what lies ahead—you might never get that eleven yuan discount if you are just one step too late.

In both cases, domestic pundits are quick to use the stampedes to diagnose greater social ills. In both cases, those social ills include financial security in the face of economic uncertainty. The differences are stark: the Chinese stampede was over a basic food product becoming more expensive due to inflation. The American stampede was over flat screen TVs and holiday gifts in a recession. The Chinese government responded by banning time-limited promotions in supermarkets across the country, while the U.S. will most likely settle it through individual lawsuits.




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