Posted by keith on August 17th, 2011
November 28, 2008: As the recession really started to bite in the Western world, something was stirring in the minds of people across the USA. Black Friday, that time of year when, traditionally, retail businesses move from being in the “red” to being in the “black”, had taken on a Pavlovian significance. Pre-programmed individuals, now operating as a herd, took to the streets in the early hours to elbow their way to the doors of big-box stores in every city. At the Green Acres Mall – whoever thought up that name deserves an award for creative expression – just outside New York City, the Walmart store was under siege; a siege of the company’s own making. Approaching 5am and the fuse had been lit by a notice taped to the front door, implying that shopping was now on a war footing: “Blitz Line Starts Here” it read. The New York Times takes up the story:
By 4:55, with no police officers in sight, the crowd of more than 2,000 had become a rabble, and could be held back no longer. Fists banged and shoulders pressed on the sliding-glass double doors, which bowed in with the weight of the assault. Six to 10 workers inside tried to push back, but it was hopeless.
Suddenly, witnesses and the police said, the doors shattered, and the shrieking mob surged through in a blind rush for holiday bargains. One worker, Jdimytai Damour, 34, was thrown back onto the black linoleum tiles and trampled in the stampede that streamed over and around him. Others who had stood alongside Mr. Damour trying to hold the doors were also hurled back and run over, witnesses said.
Some workers who saw what was happening fought their way through the surge to get to Mr. Damour, but he had been fatally injured, the police said. Emergency workers tried to revive Mr. Damour, a temporary worker hired for the holiday season, at the scene, but he was pronounced dead an hour later at Franklin Hospital Medical Center in Valley Stream.
Four other people, including a 28-year-old woman who was described as eight months pregnant, were treated at the hospital for minor injuries.
Detective Lt. Michael Fleming, who is in charge of the investigation for the Nassau police, said the store lacked adequate security. He called the scene “utter chaos” and said the “crowd was out of control.” As for those who had run over the victim, criminal charges were possible, the lieutenant said. “I’ve heard other people call this an accident, but it is not,” he said. “Certainly it was a foreseeable act.”
As I write, over one thousand people have been arrested in England for various offences related to the events, described as “riots” by the mainstream media, that took place between 6 and 10 August, 2011. Two men have been sentenced to four years imprisonment for “incitement to rioting” on Facebook. On first sight this might seem like a reasonable sentence, given that 5 people, to date, were killed at least in the vicinity of the events, if not directly as a result of them. But take a look at the outcome of the “incitement” carried out by these two men:
Jordan Blackshaw, 20, set up an “event” called Smash Down in Northwich Town for the night of 8 August on the social networking site but no one apart from the police, who were monitoring the page, turned up at the pre-arranged meeting point outside a McDonalds restaurant. Blackshaw was promptly arrested.
Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan, 22, of Latchford, Warrington, used his Facebook account in the early hours of 9 August to design a web page entitled The Warrington Riots. The court was told it caused a wave of panic in the town. When he woke up the following morning with a hangover, he removed the page and apologised, saying it had been a joke. His message was distributed to 400 Facebook contacts, but no rioting broke out as a result.
Six months after the trampling to death of Jdimytai Damour – a death that was directly attributable to the shopping frenzy whipped up by Walmart’s Black Friday campaigning and the consumer culture that Walmart are an integral part of – the company were fined $7000 for “inadequate crowd management”. No mention was made of the nature of the event that led to the death of Jdimytai Damour in the formal letter sent by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to the CEO of Walmart and other major retailers, such as JC Penney and Target. Although Walmart fought the original citation, they needn’t have bothered because the consumer culture – the lifeblood of mass retail activity – got away scot-free.
The true cause of the Walmart death did not pass Peter S. Goodman by, though. In a New York Times article published the day after the stampede, he stated: “For decades, Americans have been effectively programmed to shop. China, Japan and other foreign powers have provided the wherewithal to purchase their goods by buying staggering quantities of American debt. Financial institutions have scattered credit card offers as if they were takeout menus and turned our houses into A.T.M.’s. Hollywood and Madison Avenue have excelled at persuading us that the holiday season is a time to spend lavishly or risk being found insufficiently appreciative of our loved ones.”
Fast forward to August 2011, and in a scathing indictment of the culture within which the English unrest took place, the comedian and broadcaster Russell Brand writes: “Amidst the bleakness of this social landscape, squinting all the while in the glare of a culture that radiates ultraviolet consumerism and infrared celebrity. That daily, hourly, incessantly enforces the egregious, deceitful message that you are what you wear, what you drive, what you watch and what you watch it on, in livid, neon pixels. The only light in their lives comes from these luminous corporate messages. No wonder they have their fucking hoods up.” Russell Brand seems to be one of the few lights in the corporate and politically generated swill masquerading as journalism.
So we look again at the four year sentences handed down to Jordan Blackshaw and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan for “incitement” to riots that never occured, and wonder why, if the real cause of looting and the violence that often surrounds such incidents is the simple desire to attain the consumer goods that we are implored to seek out, the huge corporations that make money from our desires never have the finger pointed at their activities. And we have to conclude that without the consumer culture there would be no economic growth, and without economic growth there would be no more industrial civilization. That is a price that no politician, CEO, media-mogul or investment banker ever wants to pay.
And that is why the consumer culture will never be convicted.