IT MAY have been an isolated incident, but the fact that a Wal-Mart worker was trampled to death in a post-Thanksgiving stampede of shoppers struck a disturbing note about the habits of America's consumer society.
Don't blame the desire of people to shop. Indeed, shopping is a great engine of the economy, one that can help break the spell of gloom cast by recent financial indicators. Nor is it greedy for people to want to get good deals, especially at a time when lots of families are counting their money and wondering how to make do.
But on this occasion, courtesy and common sense were forgotten. It shouldn't, and doesn't have to, be this way.
Black Friday heralds the official start of the Christmas shopping season, the time when people buy gifts for loved ones to celebrate a holiday that is supposed to be about peace and good will, at the same time boosting retailers' sales into the black. That spirit was missing when 2,000 bargain-crazed shoppers shattered the door of a Wal-Mart 20 miles east of Manhattan at its 5 a.m. opening.
A temporary worker, Jdimytai Damour, was trampled to death. At least four other people, including a woman eight months pregnant, suffered minor injuries. Black Friday, which is billed by merchants as that time when their ledgers leave the red and enter the black, was never as black as this. According to the Associated Press, customers simply stepped over the fallen man in their rush to shop.
Economic hard times may partly explain the grim determination of people to go to any lengths for a bargain, but this does not offer excuse or exoneration. A shopping expedition shouldn't be an occasion for mob rule.
Merchants are not wrong to try to coax shoppers to their stores with early openings and promises of bargains, but they should be prepared to handle the crowds they entice. Despite Wal-Mart's assurances that more staff and security were hired and barricades put in place, these precautions did not prevent disaster. More thought should also be given to other options, say, giving early arrivals numbers so that the whole crowd isn't tempted to rush the doors at once.
Shoppers need to take responsibility, too. Bargain hunters who become brutes are a far cry from the spirit of Christmas.