Just how much is a human life worth? Apparently as little as $9 on Long Island, NY. Yep. Nine whole dollars. You might be wondering how I came to this conclusion. Well, shortly after 5 a.m. on Friday, November 28, 2008 (Black Friday) a man named Jdimytai Damour was trampled by a stampede of bargain hunters at a WalMart in Valley Stream, NY. Some of the hot ticket items on sale that day were a Samsung 50 inch Plasma HDTV for $798, a Bissel Compact Upright Vacuum for $28, a Samsung 10.2 megapixel digital camera for $69 and DVDs such as “The Incredible Hulk” for…you guessed it…$9.
According to reports over 2,000 crazed shoppers plowed through the doors as Damour tried to open the store for business. In the aftermath, Damour (a 34 year old seasonal employee) and several others were engulfed and trampled by the impatient mob. Damour was taken to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead. Four others were also taken to the hospital for minor injuries, including a 28 year old pregnant woman. Witnesses described the scene as “utter chaos” and one onlooker described the shoppers as “savages”. Meanwhile, at a WalMart just 15miles south of Valley Stream, a woman was trampled by a similar mob of post-Thanksgiving day shoppers. She suffered minor injuries as well.
It seems to me that incidences like these are occurring more and more frequently. Should we blame the stores for offering these unbelievable bargains? Or for not implementing proper security measures? Should we blame manufacturers for keeping prices high at other times throughout the year? Should we blame the media for whipping consumers into a frenzy during the holidays? The answer to all of these questions is yes. However not to the degree we, as consumers, would like to believe. In reality, only a small amount of blame can go toward the “consumerism machine” as I like to call it. It is time we admit that we, the consumer, are to blame. It is ultimately our choice to shop or not to shop – or when and where we shop and what we buy. We can decide whether or not to camp out for 48 hours in hopes of getting 15% off a Nintendo Wii or a Tickle Me Elmo. We also decide if we will enter a building in a civil fashion or if we are going to storm the electronics department as if it were the shores of Normandy.
Unfortunately, we choose the latter all too often. We lose sight of what it means to be part of the human race and we believe that feelings, emotions, relationships, interactions, and even lives are disposable. It seems the things that make us human are the things for which we have little regard. It is in this state that we become liars, cheaters, burglars, murderers, terrorists, and rapists. It is in this state that we, ironically, become less human. Ultimately, if we do not change this disturbing pattern, it will be our downfall.
You see, the scariest thing about the Black Friday incident at the Valley Stream WalMart is that the shoppers that trampled Jdimytai Damour to death didn’t stop to help him. Many of them stepped right over him as they made their way to the racks of “Door Busters” waiting for them inside. As the store managers learned that their employee had been killed, they tried to close the store. They informed shoppers of the tragedy and asked them to leave the store. Sadly, most of the shoppers ignored these requests and kept shopping. And the woman who was injured in a similar incident 15 miles away waited until after she had done her shopping to file an injury report with the store.
In the end, I don’t believe that we can do much to stop the “consumerism machine”. After all, it is made up of businesses who exist to make money and to get us to spend money. That is not going away, nor should it (although that is not to say some changes are needed – but that is for another time). What we can do is think critically about what, when, where, and why as we consume. We must become a society of critical, conscious consumers. The benefits of doing this are priceless.
That’s my $9.02 worth.