Who Killed Jdimytai Damour?

Like many others, I’ve had a difficult time during this Thanksgiving weekend to get my mind around the tragic trampling of Wal-Mart employee Jdimytai Damour. Did people keep shopping? Did the Valley Stream store make any sales before the police closed it down? Who put up the sign outside the store saying “Blitz Line Starts Here”?

The president of a union that has been trying to organize that Wal-Mart questioned the lack of adequate barriers and security precautions. But Wal-Mart’s low prices and its loss leaders might have been a but-for cause of the tragedy:

As part of its Black Friday promotion, Wal-Mart had advertised sales like a Polaroid 42-inch LCD HDTV for $598 . . .

The Wal-Mart online catalog lists what looks like the same product on clearance for $750. If Wal-Mart had advertised its regular $798 price for this TV, Jdimytai Damour might still be alive.

People started lining up at the Valley Stream store at 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving night. Some people were there because Black Friday has become a free-standing holiday tradition. There’s a certain esprit de corps to standing in line with your fellow shoppers. (I confess I do not share this feeling: Years ago when our first child was born, my beloved spouse took me to a 10 percent-off layette sale at a local store. The store was so mobbed and unpleasant that it hit me I’d prefer to go to a 10 percent-on sale to reduce the crushing throng and the cutthroat competition.) But other shoppers get out of bed early the day after Thanksgiving because of special early-bird prices. When we don’t ration scarce goods by price, Econ 101 says they will be rationed by having people queue.

To say that the low prices were a but-for cause of this man’s death is not to say that Wal-Mart should be legally or morally culpable for low prices. Indeed, there may be so many contributing causes to this tragedy that it is difficult to assign individual blame.

I’m particularly troubled by reports that police are thinking about charging individual members of the crowd. When people behind you start pushing you forward, there is often nothing you can do. And there’s a real fear that if you try to resist, you too will be trampled. Part of the tragedy is that there are undoubtedly people in that crowd who know they stepped on something that day, or who, in their excitement, spurred on the surge. These thoughts may haunt them for many years.

This is not an example of the wisdom of crowds.

This death and its multiple economic causes reminded me of the Bob Dylan song “Who Killed Davey Moore?” It’s about a boxer who died of injuries from a fight in 1963:

Who killed Davey Moore,
Why an’ what’s the reason for?

“Not I,” says the referee,
“Don’t point your finger at me.
I could’ve stopped it in the eighth
An’ maybe kept him from his fate,
But the crowd would’ve booed, I’m sure,
At not gettin’ their money’s worth.
It’s too bad he had to go,
But there was a pressure on me too, you know.
It wasn’t me that made him fall.
No, you can’t blame me at all.”

Who killed Davey Moore,
Why an’ what’s the reason for?

“Not us,” says the angry crowd,
Whose screams filled the arena loud.
“It’s too bad he died that night
But we just like to see a fight.
We didn’t mean for him t’ meet his death,
We just meant to see some sweat,
There ain’t nothing wrong in that.
It wasn’t us that made him fall.
No, you can’t blame us at all.”

Who killed Davey Moore,
Why an’ what’s the reason for?

“Not me,” says his manager,
Puffing on a big cigar.
“It’s hard to say, it’s hard to tell,
I always thought that he was well.
It’s too bad for his wife an’ kids he’s dead,
But if he was sick, he should’ve said.
It wasn’t me that made him fall.
No, you can’t blame me at all.”

Who killed Davey Moore,
Why an’ what’s the reason for?

“Not me,” says the gambling man,
With his ticket stub still in his hand.
“It wasn’t me that knocked him down,
My hands never touched him none.
I didn’t commit no ugly sin,
Anyway, I put money on him to win.
It wasn’t me that made him fall.
No, you can’t blame me at all.”

Who killed Davey Moore,
Why an’ what’s the reason for?

“Not me,” says the boxing writer,
Pounding print on his old typewriter,
Sayin’, “Boxing ain’t to blame,
There’s just as much danger in a football game.”
Sayin’, “Fist fighting is here to stay,
It’s just the old American way.
It wasn’t me that made him fall.
No, you can’t blame me at all.”

Who killed Davey Moore,
Why an’ what’s the reason for?

“Not me,” says the man whose fists
Laid him low in a cloud of mist,
Who came here from Cuba’s door
Where boxing ain’t allowed no more.
“I hit him, yes, it’s true,
But that’s what I am paid to do.
Don’t say ‘murder,’ don’t say ‘kill.’
It was destiny, it was God’s will.”

Who killed Davey Moore,
Why an’ what’s the reason for?


jblog

"I'm particularly troubled by reports that police are thinking about charging individual members of the crowd. When people behind you start pushing you forward, there is often nothing you can do. And there's a real fear that if you try to resist, you too will be trampled."

Let's hold that thought until we see what evidence the police have to support such charges.

In the situation you describe -- a solid swarm of people being moved against their will -- you're right.

But after the initial crush, if there were individuals who ran freely over this poor gentleman with no regard for his safety simply to get at the bargains inside, then they should be held accountable.

The video you posted says that shoppers were even jostling the first responders trying to aid the man -- this clearly must happened at least minutes after the initial rush for the door.

Are there any security videos of this event, and if so, what do they show?

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Mitch Weiss

The problem was with the company, not the people in line. Best Buy has been doing this for years. They distribute numbers many hours before the store opens to people in line. This prevents the entire crush. Walmart bases it on just the line itself. That gives people incentive to cut in line, push, and all the like.

It is amazing what a simple thing like handing out numbers can do to modify human behaviour. They have been doing this for years at my deli!

discordian

I guess Wal-Mart crowd management people didn't study or don't remember the Cinicinnati Who concert in 1979.

As a guy who's done industrial safety in varying degrees since 1990 I'd say the store management is ultimately to blame.
I'm more interested in what OSHA has to say then the police.
IMO store management should have know from past experience what to expect and planned accordingly. That's what management it about, ya know?

I was recently at Walt Disney World and the way they handle the opening rush to the main attractions is something Wal-Mart and other retailers may want to look at for next year.

Either that or dump this "Black Friday" crap forever.

Michael P.

Two circulars that I saw, Toys R Us and Game Stop, specifically advertised "Door Buster" specials. I think that one of the factors is that stores often add the clause "Quantity limited and no rain checks," so people are thinking to themselves that if they aren't one of the first people into the store then they are not getting the good deals. My wife chose a calmer, depending on how you look at it, Black Friday 6:00 a.m. scene, Loehmann's.

jonathan

Sympathy for the Devil: I shouted out / who killed the Kennedys / when after all / it was you and me.

DJH

First, I think it's a pretty cheap maneuver for unions to use this man's death to attack Wal-Mart. We all know the unions don't like Wal-Mart; this death doesn't change that, even if the unions are feigning a new kind of moral outrage over it.

Second, lots of people are saying that this death was "caused" by Wal-Mart, or by rampant greed, or unthinking consumerism, or whatever boogeyman s/he wants to complain about. Again, though, the same principle is in play ... this death does not change the fact that the critics already do not like whoever or whatever it is they think "killed" Damour, so we're hearing nothing new from them. Damour's death might ratchet up their sanctimony, but sanctimoniousness is usually not helpful.

Truth is, no one person or thing killed him. It took a number of participants -- some willing, some inadvertent, some completely unwilling -- to kill him. Rather than choosing a particular boogeyman and blaming him/her/it for Damour's death, a better approach would be to see who had the most direct role in this disaster.

And that would be -- of course! -- whoever it was in the crowd who pushed to get in. That's so obvious, it doesn't need to be said. Secondarily, Wal-Mart personnel at this store failed to provide any direction to the throng or security, thus creating a scenario in which some pushers near the back of the crowd could cause this to happen. Simple crowd-control measures, such as putting up barriers or arranging people in lines rather than in a single mass of humanity, might have prevented the "cascade effect" that brought the stampede about.

Are Wal-Mart's deals, or consumerism generally, to blame? No, because Wal-Mart has been selling things cheap for decades, and no one ever died over those deals before. People living even in our intensively consumerist society CAN in fact shop for cheap stuff without killing each other ... as evidenced by the fact that this is the first time in "Black Friday" history that a stampede has claimed a life.

There should be a criminal investigation into this. The people in the front-ranks who were shoved through the doors by people further back are not to blame, as Prof Ayers points out, but I doubt an investigation would stop just with them. It will be difficult enough for police to find recognizable faces on camera footage in their quest for "leads" to follow up on; so they will, no doubt, talk to as many as they can, in the process. How this crowd gathered, and how the store's management dealt with it prior to the store's front doors being opened, will also no doubt be reviewed -- as it should be.

The more salient message from this tragedy, though, is that "Black Friday" has definitely gotten out of hand, unnecessarily so, since it is NOT -- as is so often presumed, by people in and out of retail -- the "busiest" shopping day of the year, and the ONE day that stores can make a lot of money. (Here's why I say that.)

The myth of "Black Friday" is persistent and appealing, because it's the result of "magic-bullet" thinking ... i.e. the (often) false belief that to any problem there is one "best" solution that must be pursued in preference to all else. Retailers believe that their business can be made or broken based on "Black Friday" sales, believing it to be "the" most important shopping day of the year ... thus they offer huge sales and promote it heavily.

Retailers forget that the REAL "biggest shopping day of the year" is actually the last Saturday before Christmas, and that many of rest of the top-10 best shopping days of the year lie inside of the Thanksgiving/Christmas calendar window. Thus, "Black Friday" is NOT truly a "make or break" day for them; they have many more heavy shopping days coming up in the following weeks.

(Where did this myth come from? The Times's own David Carr explains it very well in a great article that everyone should read.)

This makes this tragedy even worse than it already is. Damour was killed as an indirect consequence of retail's false belief in the importance of "Black Friday" as the ONE DAY each year in which they MUST make AS MANY sales as possible, or fail. In this case, false belief and fallacious thinking led (by a long chain of events) to a man's death. It needs to STOP, and it needs to stop NOW.

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David

I'm just sickened by the entire thing. Lee Scott, Wal-Mart President & CEO should have gone on television and apologized for he in the end is responsible for not ensuring that such a thing could occur. I hope Scott is brought up on criminal charges by NY Attorney General Cuomo as well as subordinates on down the line that could have done something with proper planning. People need to be fired for doing this.

Moreover, Scott should go to the funeral and personally apologize to his parents and make very large financial amends.

Not everyone makes the money to have the luxury to go to 10% on-sales to avoid crowds. People wait in these long lines generally because the $100 to $150 savings means a great deal to them.

I am Jewish and have been following in particular the killings of people at the Chabad House from the Mombai terror and then I contrast totally different senseless killing.

American Capitalism at its best.

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Deb

The problem was not the prices, it was with the people in line. When a crowd becomes a mob, terror ensues.

In accounts I read, there were police manning the crowds at that store in the evening, but they were called away to other "door buster" crowds that were deemed more menacing.

Those officers who were being trampled when trying to perform CPR should have drawn their weapons and fired some warning shots. Maybe teargas and water cannons?

The Spirit of the Season indeed.

Gene Shiau

When you go to your local department of motor vehicles, there is also a long people queue. Clearly nobody is in a rush to get in and grab the earliest number available -- nor do most people enjoy staying in that queue, I'm sure, but visiting the DMV is a necessary evil that also has a deadline associated with it (license and registration renewal, for example).

Why, then, don't we use a ticketed queue at every store for Black Friday? For one thing, shoppers will still make a mad rush for the queue tickets. On the other hand, now we have an opportunity to exercise basic supply and demand right outside the store: those shoppers who badly want to get in the store first will now be willing to pay cash for a low ticket number. If there WERE no other costs associated with ticket trading, then an optimal queuing order will emerge on its own.

More interesting still, what if the stores start auctioning their early-hour queue tickets by time slots with but a handful on reserve for first-come, first-serve? Might the stores not generate revenues from the auctions comparable to from the loss-leaders?

In the mean time, charge this Wal-Mart with public endangerment, I say. Surely this Wal-Mart violated every conceivable fire safety protocols in the book with its Black Friday sale.

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Clinton

Of course this wouldn't have happened with protected, unionized employees:

Because Wal-Mart wouldn't have been able to offer those products at low prices. Just another ho-hum Christmas sale by a company desperate to fund a poorly performing pension and dealing with employee absenteeism.

Clark

"People wait in these long lines generally because the $100 to $150 savings means a great deal to them."

Perhaps those people should not be buying big screen TVs then...

ceolaf

Let's try to get some of the particulars of the situation into this discussion.

1) Witnesses have said that the crowd jumped over barricades. I only saw this in one report -- on Friday night -- so I am not sure that it is true. But there might have been barricades.

2) The crowd was chanting something like "bread the door down."

2) The crowd broke the down door.

3) Store employees tried to stop the crowd by forming a human chain across the the entryway.

Who was the fool who thought a crowd so eager to get in that they broke the door down was going to stop for a chain of store employees? Who organized this?

And what would Wal*Mart had done to stop such a crowd? Not some vague idea that they should have done something, but what specifically could they have done with such a crowd? If they were willing to break down the door, why should we think that they'd abide by a number system?

Kirilius

I thinks it's the greed. The policy of putting artificially high prices throughout the year and then drop them to their real levels at some made-up "door buster" events all grouped around the year end.

KMS

From reading various articles, I understand that the crowd at the FRONT of the line took the doors off the hinges to get in the store. That is a very deliberate action and is the fault of specific people. I'm sorry, but those people should be punished for breaking and entering, if nothing else.

Mike B

Offering large loss leads on very liquid items is the equivalent to throwing money up into the air and yelling come get it. I'm not saying this is criminal or wrong, but it shouldn't be surprising when a mob of people all rushing for the free money develops.

If memos are found talking up the large Black Friday crowds as a way to generate publicity and excitement for Wal Mart's every day slave labor savings perhaps a large lawsuit is in order.

Patrick C

The only issue is that Wal Mart didn't have adequate crowd control measures. Any organization that conducts business practices meant to ignite a mob mentality is ultimately liable for that mobs actions. Wal Mart simply needs to hire ten security guys at $10 hour for a single night. Now I would hope a jury finds the company responsible for up to $10 million dollars in damages.

Gary

Blaming WalMart for this is like blaming Boston for riots after the Red Sox won the series in 2004. This death, and the riots, were the result of individuals making poor decisions that endangered others. WalMart is no more responsible for the actions of customers in its store than Boston is responsible for people burning cars in its streets.

While its convenient to blame WalMart (the evil empire), its harder to look at the real problems - greed, a horrible 'keeping up with the jones' mentality", and the recession we're in.

Steve

This will be considered minor compared to the mob scenes I expect once the coming depression begins to bite.

Bobby G

Wow, people who say WalMart is responsible are crazy. Let me first establish that I think the one issue here is bad crowd management by the store who probably anticipated fewer people waiting in line that morning. Steps need to be taken to *prevent* this mob mentality, since once it gets going it is nigh impossible to stop. A numbered queue system put in place before people even start waiting in line is probably what needed to happen, and it didn't. I don't want to say "Oh well" or downplay the tragedy of Jdimytai Damour's death but that is the problem and the solution right there.

To everyone looking to get mad at WalMart, think about what you're saying. WalMart, how dare you offer low prices on an admittedly finite supply of goods to us, the consuming public? This sentiment is absolutely absurd. I am no fan of WalMart, personally, but even I can't stand people blaming a company in order to excuse the mob of people that trampled someone. I hope WalMart doesn't have to pay a cent, but in our country with our flawed justice system, they probably will out of some "social responsibility" clause in some obscure retailer precedent case. Kirilius (#13) who claims that the prices prior to the Black Friday sale are "artificially high" obviously does not understand economics. Go find someone who doesn't set their prices so "outrageously" high... oh wait, you can't, cause there's that little thing called demand that people always talk about. Or do you want to accuse everyone who seeks to make a profit of being evil?

I did enjoy that Bob Dylan reference there, and I also find it strangely pertinent. As a side note: I always thought when I heard that song that there was one person (intentionally?) left out of the suspect list: Davey Moore. I would have liked to hear his reasoning in Dylan-verse.

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blue92

'The crowd was chanting something like “bread the door down.”'

I've heard of some of these strange fried foods in the South, but this trend is getting ridiculous....