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Black Friday 2011 Madness

How far would you go to save some money? This is the question millions of Americans inevitably ask themselves when they start to line up hours before a store opens, in order to save tens or – if they’re lucky – hundreds of dollars on things like electronics. Nowadays, “Black Friday,” the day after American Thanksgiving (last week), is such a major commercial “holiday” that stores don’t want to miss out. And while no one truly knows why the day got its name, Black Friday has in recent years become a very dark day, with a steady increase in violence. But really, how bad did it get this year? Well… for starters, someone died.

What’s All the Fuss About?

A Participant’s Perspective

One article from The Lantern is written by someone who enjoys the thrill of the holiday.

Midnight Friday and I am already fighting amongst other Black Friday shoppers for a deal on blankets. I have gone shopping on Black Friday for 10 years and every year it seems to get a little bit crazier.

With almost all of the major retailers opening at midnight rather than the traditional 4 a.m. Many customers never went to bed after their Thanksgiving feasts, but rather, stayed out all night in search of a deal. And there were many deals to be found, depending on how much time and sanity you were willing to spend. […] Electronics, as always, were the top searched-for items.

[…] [And every] year someone manages to start a riot over Furby’s or Wii’s. The Christmas season just isn’t complete until a mom breaks a tooth attempting to get a Tickle Me Elmo.

2011 was no exception. Shots were fired in mall parking lots on the east and west coast. There were reported robberies and muggings over Black Friday items, and countless scuffles inside stores such as Target and Walmart.

These fights fuel people to ask “Why?” From the outside it makes no sense to put yourself in such a potentially dangerous position just to score a few deals. But for those of us who treat Black Friday like a religious holiday, it makes perfect sense.

Actually, fighting for a deal makes perfect sense to me. With America having such a painfully weak economy, emotions can run high when it means saving money. What makes no sense to me is treating the day like a religious holiday; but the writer continues.

In many families, including mine, it is a tradition more important than Thanksgiving. While everyone else is in a tryptophan haze or playing football, my mother, aunts, grandmothers and assorted others and I are searching through the ads and making a game plan. We wake early and dress in Christmas-themed sweaters and hats, and I know we’re not alone.

Just this year I saw two families, both with matching T-shirts with slogans such as “Black Friday shopper since 1992” and their names on the back. These serve not only to show that they are a seasoned veteran of the biggest sales day of the year. They also aid in finding relatives in the flurry of people.

I don’t know why, but there is something special about standing in line for an hour, searching for a parking spot, and cussing out line jumpers (you know who you are).

The only sense I can make of this is that this has become a family event. Outsiders often can’t understand how bizarre traditions get started, like when an idiot takes his young children out to chase storms together; it’s not so much the act itself but the camaraderie or companionship that really makes it special. After years of doing such things together, do you think they would like it as much if they were alone? Of course not; it’s a social thing. So I get it… but I’m still not a fan of it.

What it Really Looks like

If you’ve never seen Black Friday, here’s what the disturbing scene looked (and sounded) like last year in a store in New York:

After describing some of the chaos that occurred last week, an article from Bloomfield Patch had this to say:

The biggest danger of shopping a huge sale used to be that you might not get parking. Now, you might not live to make it back to your car. Being careful to keep your wallet and handbag secure was a primary concern. Now, it’s prudent to wear a gas mask and a bullet proof vest.

This is insanity.

[…] Big box stores like Walmart, need to beef up security. Not only inside the stores, but outside in the parking lots, as well.  Clearly, there needs to be more careful crowd control.  Perhaps they should lower the number of shoppers allowed in the stores at one time. Tempers flare and injuries occur when people are packed in like sardines. The stores, as hosts of these events, are responsible for keeping their shoppers safe.

And here’s the sad story of a grandfather whose face got brutally smashed by a police officer who mistook what he did for shoplifting. The raw cellphone footage is horrible, but here’s the news broadcast that shows parts of it and explains it in context:

The Darker Side

The Pepper Spray Incident

CBS reports, with actual footage of the incident from a cellphone camera:

A woman believed to have used pepper spray on shoppers Friday at a Los Angeles Walmart super store has reportedly turned herself into authorities.

Police confirmed to CBS Los Angeles that a woman turned herself into officers at the LAPD’s Devonshire Station on Friday night. Following her surrender, the woman was questioned and released pending further investigation.

The incident, which left nearly 20 shoppers with minor injuries, occurred about 10:20 p.m. Thursday shortly after an Xbox display was unveiled at the store. Cell phone video obtained by CBS Los Angeles shows the chaos that ensued after the suspect fired pepper spray at the shoppers.

The victims, who mostly complained of stinging in their eyes, were treated at the scene. “It was a burning feeling in my throat for me. There was a lot of people who got it in their eyes. They were burning, they were screaming, crying,” shopper Juan Castro told the station.

A Walmart spokesman says they had more than adequate security. In a statement released, the company says: “It was an unfortunate situation but we’re glad everyone is okay. We’re working with law enforcement to provide security video and information.”

The Gun Incident

This is by Salon, from California:

A Black Friday shopper was hospitalized in critical but stable condition after he was shot by an armed robber in a crowded parking lot outside a Walmart store in Northern California, police said.

The victim and his family were walking to their car around 1:45 a.m. when they were confronted by a group of men who demanded their purchases. When the family refused, a fight broke out, and one of the robbers pulled a gun and shot the man, San Leandro police Sgt. Mike Sobek said. The victim’s name was not released.

“It looks like he’s going to live,” Sobek said. “The suspects saw these guys, got out of their car and tried to rob them but were unsuccessful.”

During the fracas, other family members wrestled down one of the suspects, 20-year-old Tony Phillips, who was arrested by officers on suspicion of attempted homicide and attempted robbery, police said. […] Police were looking for at least three other people involved in the shooting, including the gunman, who fled in a car.

The Trampling Incident

The saddest story comes is reported here by Digital Journal:

Black Friday bargain hunting has become a dangerous sport. One man who opted to join the crowds of shoppers at the Target store in South Charleston collapsed whilst shopping, leaving callous fellow shoppers to step over him.
Amidst the frenzy of this year’s Black Friday bargain hunting some shameful tales have emerged, demonstrating the complete callousness of some caught up in a wave of consumerism gone mad. One man became ill and collapsed while shopping for Christmas decorations at a Target store in South Charleston, W.Va. His fellow shoppers simply ignored his plight, walking around him as he lay on the floor, and even over him.MSNBC reported that Walter Vance, 61, of Logan County, W. Va., joined shoppers at Target just after midnight on Friday. He was stepped over by bargain hunters more intent on cheap buys than concerned with a man dying. Not everyone was immune to his collapse as an off duty ER nurse and an off duty paramedic stopped to help him. Nevertheless Mr Vance died after being taken to hospital.

Sue Compton, co-worker and friend of Mr Vance, said “Where is the good Samaritan side of people? How could you not notice someone was in trouble? I just don’t understand if people didn’t help what their reason was, other than greed because of a sale.”

Target was the scene of a Black Friday stampede last year, when Keith Krantz was trampled at the Buffalo, New York store. The Daily Mail reported that fellow shopper Rich Mathewson said of the incident, ‘It went from controlled to a mob in less than five minutes. And then it just got nasty.”

I actually still remember the first time I heard about someone dying from shopping. He was a Walmart employee who was trampled to death by Black Friday shoppers in 2008.

And these aren’t the only crimes that occurred. There were other cases such as the SoHo that was broken into and looted because a bunch of idiots didn’t realize that it wasn’t open on Black Friday. So they broke down the door and took whatever they wanted. Naturally, about 20 people including children were injured.

Just Another Statistic

Though other countries have their own shopping days, like Canada’s “Boxing Day” (the day after Christmas) some Canadian retailers are now looking at Black Friday as a good opportunity to bring in more shoppers. This is despite the fact that Canadian Thanksgiving has absolutely nothing to do with it. In fact, Thanksgiving in Canada is in October, making a Canadian Black Friday nothing more than a cultural spill-over. As this video suggests, reactions have been mixed.

Black Friday is not going anywhere, and the victims of this gruesome tradition will be nothing more than statistics. Next year, security will be expecting huge crowds, just like they did this year, and it will probably break another shopping record. After all, according to the Telegraph, it is basically the most important day of the year for the American economy:

Some 152 million people – almost half the population – are due to pass through checkouts carrying heavily discounted products, spending upwards of $50 billion (£31 billion), according a survey by the National Retail Federation (NRF).

They were pretty much right. Black Friday alone yielded over $11 billion. But if you include the whole weekend (i.e., “Cyber Monday”), a total of 226 million people shopped online or in stores, raking in $52.4 billion.

Way to go, America. I hope it was worth it.

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