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Wal-Mart Worker Crushed to Death in Early Morning Stampede of Shoppers on Black Friday

StoryDecember 01, 2008
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A Wal-Mart employee in Long Island, New York died after being trampled to death by a mob of shoppers on Friday, the traditional first day of the holiday shopping season. The thirty-four-year-old worker, Jdimytai Damour, was killed after a crowd of 2,000 broke down store doors and ran over him shortly before the store’s schedule 5:00 a.m. opening. Four shoppers were injured in the stampede. Nassau County police were trying to determine what happened during the stampede, but said it was unclear if there would be any criminal charges. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: “Black Friday” is the day after Thanksgiving. It marks the start of the Christmas shopping season and is one of the busiest shopping days of the year, when retailers look to big holiday season sales to push their books back into the black.

This year, Black Friday took on a different meaning after a thirty-four-year-old worker at Wal-Mart in Long Island, New York was trampled to death by a stampede of shoppers. More than 2,000 people had started lining up Thursday night at the Wal-Mart in Valley Stream, where DVDs, flat-panel television sets and many other products were discounted to attract crowds of bargain-hunters.

Jdimytai Damour was working as a maintenance man at Wal-Mart for the holidays. He had been trying to hold back the crowd of shoppers pressing against the store’s sliding-glass double doors. Just before the store’s scheduled 5:00 a.m. opening, the doors shattered under the weight of the crowd. Damour, who was a big man — 270 pounds, by some accounts — was thrown to the floor. Hundreds of rampaging shoppers stepped over, around and on him as they rushed into the store. He was pronounced dead just after 6:00 a.m.

Witnesses Diana Garcia and Berenit Sierra were at Wal-Mart that morning and described what they saw.

    DIANA GARCIA: He was helping keep the door down, because they were pushing it to break it down. He was helping hold it in place. And he was asking everybody just to back off four feet, and nobody would listen. Nobody.

    BERENIT SIERRA: It was — it was uncalled for.

    DIANA GARCIA: You know, they should have been here. They would have avoided a lot of fights, avoided his death.

    BERENIT SIERRA: There was only one cop, and that cop, after he saw he couldn’t deal with the crowd, he left. What is he to do?

    DIANA GARCIA: Everybody bumrushed to the door, had the door broken down, just like last year. They should have been prepared for a new year on Black Friday.

    WITNESS: This gentlemen just told us the doors came off their hinges last year just the same way.

    BERENIT SIERRA: A lot of the cashiers, they were in tears. They were in tears. A couple of them walked away. People were still shopping.

AMY GOODMAN: Nassau County police said they were trying to determine what happened during the stampede but said it was unclear if there would be any criminal charges.

Patrick Purcell is with us. He’s director of Special Projects for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1500, which has called for an immediate investigation into Damour’s death.

Savitri D. is also with us, director of the Church of Stop Shopping, led by Reverend Billy, who’s long called for Black Friday to be turned into Buy Nothing Day.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Patrick Purcell, no charges? What is going on here? You’ve been trying to organize Wal-Mart employees?

PATRICK PURCELL: Well, our biggest effort has been to just basically try to get Wal-Mart to be more responsible. And this is just another example of a company that is irresponsible in the community. And any company out there would have been better prepared for what happened. There was hundreds of thousands of situations like this across the country, and none of them ended in somebody dying.

This company knew what it was doing. It knew exactly what was going to happen. And, you know, to us, it’s the retail equivalent of yelling fire in a crowded theater. They should have had more barriers, they should have had more security, and they didn’t. So this, to us, is just another example of the blatant corporate irresponsibility that this company is equally as well known for as just their profits.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Savitri D., you’ve been campaigning around the issue of Black Friday and this consumerism for years now.

SAVITRI D.: Yes, we have. I see this death, this untimely death, as a time to enlarge the moment and look at how stores have protected American shoppers from violence, and companies like Wal-Mart make it seem like there’s no violence in the consumer cycle. This is a huge cycle of violence, beginning with resources extracted from the earth and ending with things returned to landfills and poisoning our water. So this moment is something we all have to enlarge. We have to look to it. We have to learn from it. We have to educate ourselves. And as citizens, we have to understand our culpability, but we also have to hold these corporations responsible.

AMY GOODMAN: When they were trying to deal with the terrible death, there were reports like — this is from the New York Daily News, Juan’s paper — that shoppers in the store were asked to leave by other store workers, some of them crying, some customers ignoring the pleas that they stop shopping, move to the front of the store and exit.

PATRICK PURCELL: Yeah, and one of the things that troubles me is, obviously it was a chaotic situation, but what bothers me is I’m hearing more and more about the customers. And clearly, the customers were, it appeared, into some type of riotous situation that developed. But the atmosphere that led to this riotous situation was Wal-Mart’s inability to control the crowd. Everywhere else you could have gone — Best Buy had a situation where they let twenty-five people in at a time. There was people who handed out bracelets. What bothers me is Wal-Mart trying to put the blame now on the customer. I agree, total frenzy situation. But they’re responsible for controlling the atmosphere.

AMY GOODMAN: But they saw there was crowds of thousands —

PATRICK PURCELL: They saw the crowds. There was clearly —

AMY GOODMAN: — before the store opened.

PATRICK PURCELL: Before the store opened. Their response was that they called the local police. It’s not the local police’s job to patrol the situation. Wal-Mart knows our economy is on the decline. You’re handing out plasma TVs for reduced prices well below retail. Again, to us, you’re just feeding the frenzy of the economic problems we’re having. They had to know there was a situation that could develop like this.

And it bothers us even more that their response was “We’re sorry.” Nothing more than “We’re sorry.” Not that “We’re going to review our procedures from top down in every one of our stores throughout the country.” Not that they’re going to set up a fund to take care of the worker. Their response was “We did the best we could. We’re sorry.” And that’s a horrible response.

AMY GOODMAN: We have to leave it there. Patrick Purcell, thanks for being with us, director of Special Projects, United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1500.


AMY GOODMAN: And Savitri D., director of the Church of Stop Shopping, led by Reverend Billy.

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