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.
Before police shut down the store, these shoppers actually continued to stream past emergency crews as they worked furiously to save the store clerk’s life, completely unconcerned with the man dying in front of them, and even impeding the EMT’s efforts. “They were savages,” said shopper Kimberly Cribbs, 27.
For the sake of saving $100 on a wide-screen TV, a mob of people killed a man – knowingly and freely. Hundreds of people walked and ran over this man, without a second thought. These people didn’t just “stampede” the store once managers opened the doors at the scheduled opening time – they broke the doors down before store management could even open them. They stampeded like wild animals, willing to kill a man to save a few bucks on a plasma screen or the newest IPod. As if this could get any worse, the crowd then became irate when the store announced that an employee had been killed and the store was temporarily closing. They weren’t shocked at what they had done – they were irate that the store was closing for a few hours. It seems Wal-Mart’s storied tag line, “Save Money. Live Better.”, should now be “Save Money. Kill Trying.”
Who is responsible for this savagery? What should be done? I’ll address these thoughts in my next post.