Articles Posted in Rioting/Mob Violence

In my previous and second post on this subject, I reviewed the events leading to the killing of a Wal-Mart worker at the company’s Valley Stream Long Island New York store, and what should be done in response to this crime, in the parochial and more national sense.

Equally as important as law enforcement’s anemic response to this banality, where was the moral leadership in responding to this event, from elected officials? To date, nothing of any import or gravity has come forth from Long Island, NY elected officials or New York state officials such as the Governor. Critically, this was a stunning opportunity for president-elect Barack Obama to depart very briefly from purely economic issues (which are understandably pressing,) and exert moral leadership and direction, to a country that has all but lost its moral compass. Yet, nothing. How can it be that in this country, a nation hailed as the world’s most civilized, something like this can happen, and nary is a word uttered from our national leaders? The contradiction is stunning. As my previous profession used to be as a public policy and political affairs manager, I’ve advised several political officials in my career. Had I Barack Obama’s ear now, I would have advised him that this tragedy represented an enormous opportunity for him to set the moral tone for his incoming presidency; an opportunity to raise our sinking national decency along with raising our national economy.

A country cannot borrow civility. It cannot mortgage it; it cannot legislate it; and it cannot bail it out. It must both be set by example from without, and it must come from within. Our national and local leaders must see this, and set this example. Only then, will the “average person” respond in kind.

In my last post, I reviewed the events leading to the killing of a Wal-Mart worker at the company’s Valley Stream Long Island New York store, when shoppers tore down the doors of the store, stampeded inside and trampled to death one man, as well as injuring several others including an eight-month pregnant woman. Part Two of this post deals with what should be done about this crime, in the immediate and much larger sense.

What has happened to us as a country, as a people? What kind of culture have we descended to, and when did this kind of savagery and numbing down of our country begin? Twenty to 25 years ago, an incident like this would have been front-page news- and justifiably remained so for several days. It would have provoked gasped shocks across the country. Upon hearing news like this, people would have held their hands over their mouths, in shocked disbelief that Americans could act this way. Now? It’s seemingly nothing extraordinary. As a nation, we have become numb to violent acts like this; numb to civility that has dropped to an all-time national low in this country. Nothing shocks us anymore. Most people see this in a newspaper, and turn the page; if they see a ten second piece on TV they click to another station. “Wait! Isn’t there a re-run of “Deal or No Deal” on now? Yeah, put that on!”

Understand something: This “stampede” was not a scenario where starving masses in a war-torn area mobbed a food supply truck. We’ve all seen those images, from Bosnia and Darfur, and similar points all over the globe. However ugly, such desperate, unregulated behavior like that can be explained by the primitive desire to survive, the will to live, by human beings in desperate, life-threatening circumstances. The circumstances that existed here? $25 off the price of the latest Blackberry.

This post reflects more editorial commentary than legal analysis, but is nonetheless appropriate for this criminal law blog. The news that a Wal-Mart worker was killed in a human stampede at a Long Island, New York store’s post-Thanksgiving Day sale, has seemingly come and gone, apparently without major public reaction. A blip on the mainstream news media’s radar screen, this sickening news came, and apparently just as fast, has disappeared. No meaningful outcries came forth from local officials; or from state officials in New York. No outcries emerged from religious or clerical leaders, local or national. A few columnists in some of the dailies such as the Boston Globe (to their credit) wrote of the event, but on the whole, this event seems to be a non-event.

I find this shocking. Not only was this incident legally criminal, it was savage and barbaric – the behavioral province of the lowest form of animal life. Readers will notice I inserted the word “human” in front of “stampede,” above. There is a reason for this grammatical construction: “Stampede” is a word almost always associated with the behavior of wild animals. And that is precisely the behavior that took place here. Witnesses reported the mob of shoppers at this store knocked the man down, mercilessly. After he fell, he was intentionally stepped on and trampled by hundreds of shoppers, who could not have cared less what they were doing. As the helpless victim gasped for air, people ran over and around him, completely unfazed, as though he were invisible.

“He was bum-rushed by 200 people,” said Jimmy Overby, 43, a Wal-Mart co-worker. “They took the doors off the hinges. He was trampled and killed in front of me. They took me down too…I literally had to fight people off my back.” The offical word from the Nassau County, New York Police is that the investigation is still ongoing, but as of a conversation I had earlier this week with the Department’s Public Information Office, no arrests had yet been made – and neither are any arrests expected. The reason? So many people collectively committed this act, police have no idea who to arrest – and not one of the “shoppers” who was at the scene are willing to say a word. An ignorant, pathetic wall of silence. Aside from the man killed, police said several other people suffered injuries from this sorry spectacle. One witness told reporters she saw a woman knocked down just a few feet from the dying worker. The woman was eight months pregnant. This meant nothing to this mob.