Black and bloody Friday

By News | Last updated: Nov 27, 2012 - 9:28:06 AM

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The news is in from Black Friday, the now notorious shopping derby that follows so-called Thanksgiving Day. The results: More than 35 million Americans visited retailers’ stores and websites Turkey Day, an increase by six million people from last year, and for the entire weekend 89 million shoppers “braved the crowds” with total spending hitting $59.1 billion, according to a National Retail Federation survey.


“Braving the crowds” might be more literal than the trade group meant as the shopping weekend included fights, shooting and deaths all under the umbrella of great deals and happy holidays. Four years ago a Wal-Mart worker on Long Island, N.Y., was trampled to death as customers tore through doors and crushed his poor body. According to the Boston Globe, multi-billion dollar generating Wal-Mart is still contesting a $7,000 fine levied by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for failure “to control the crowd of shoppers.” The Globe quoted Wal-Mart spokesman Steve Restivo saying via e-mail “that the company believes the citation has ‘far-reaching implications’ and could lead to the creation of ‘unfairly harsh penalties and restrictions on future sales promotions.’ ” So a man dies, a token fine is imposed and a corporate giant moves to protect its ability to herd people into stores.

Writer Annie Z. Yu of the Internet-based Daily Caller recounted “Seven Black Friday horror stories,” which included the horrific trampling of the Wal-Mart employee and a pregnant woman who miscarried in the same 2008 incident; a woman who pepper-sprayed other shoppers in 2008 to get an X-Box; two men shot to death in Toys R Us after an argument and fight in 2008, which led to both pulling guns and killing each other; a woman who tried to cut in line at Toy R Us and was arrested after threatening to shoot other shoppers in 2010. Then Black Friday 2011, a 61-year-old man collapsed, dying and people simply stepped over him to get products; and in 2009 a Wal-Mart shutdown after out of control shoppers fought and screamed and “impatient customers began ripping open the items early. Employees called the police and kicked out customers for over two hours. While they cleaned up inside, employees said they heard customers yelling and screaming. Customers also pounded on the glass doors and tried to sneak into the store.”

This year an alleged shoplifter, reportedly guilty of stealing two DVD players, ended up dead after an altercation with a security guard and store employee in Lithonia, Ga. There was a shooting in Florida, handguns pulled in Texas and Colorado. Then fights in parking lots and scuffles in stores in Indiana, Baltimore, and a Massachusetts man who left a two year old in a car, shopped, and took home a big flat screen TV—without the child. YouTube offered a solid selection of battles for the bargains and breathless newscasters recited tales of shopping madness—sometimes with a wry smile.

Crass commercialism this time of year seems to inspire an increase in violence and murder that rises alongside spending and frenzied trips to retail stores, outlet malls and shopping centers. The abuses seem to have no end while research has shown Black Friday bargains can often be found during other times of the year. But with X-mas holidays the difference between a profitable and not profitable year, the spending push spirals out of control exacting huge emotional, psychological and financial tolls.

According to the federation survey, “a record 247 million shoppers visited stores and websites over Black Friday weekend, up from 226 million last year.” Average shoppers spent $423, up from $398 last year.

But, as CNN noted, with consumers likely to spend a billion dollars on-line Cyber Monday Nov. 26, credit card debt is rising and credit card delinquency has increased—not to mention the problems of cyber-crime, identity theft, stolen credit card and pilfered account numbers.

All of this seems a pretty hefty price to pay for buying things and getting into the X-mas spirit. This season is more devoted to excess than the spirit and mission of a humble savior who rejects the things of this world for higher values and spiritual realities. But that narrative doesn’t get shared and certainly is not a good hook for shopping and consumer bloodsucking.