The Blackest Friday

by Brian Solomon | 12/2/08 4:35am

I finally understand how people in other countries can hate the United States.

The answer lies not in our liberty or our power, but in our cartoonish excesses, our absurd obsessions -- and the tragic death of one 34-year-old early last Friday morning.

At 4:55 a.m. on Friday, people around the world were suffering from a number of terrible conditions. On that day, according to UNICEF, over 2 million children were dealing with the effects of HIV/AIDS and about 30,000 died from poverty. The United Nations estimates that more than 12 million people still labor as slaves or are trafficked for sexual servitude. On Friday morning hostages in Mumbai, India huddled under threats from militants who were attacking major buildings and engaging in bloody firefights with police, ultimately killing at least 188 people over three days.

But none of those tragedies touched the Green Acres Mall in Valley Stream, New York. Instead, people there decided to leave their own terrible mark on our world. Just five minutes before Walmart was to open its doors to the public early for Black Friday deals, a crowd of more than 2,000 people outside decided that they could wait no longer. The mob attacked the sliding glass door with such force that it shattered. The mindless horde shoved its way into the store, stampeding past employees and trampling one temporary worker, Jdimytai Damour, to death.

Every year we hear (or even witness) Black Friday stories: the lines forming at midnight for the latest electronics deals, the chaotic racing through the clothing racks to find another pair of half-off shoes, two women fighting over the last Tickle Me Elmo. But when did this Christmastime drive to secure a fantastic deal become some sort of ritual capitalist craze that turns citizens of the greatest country in the world into rabid beasts who would murder for a 20 percent off coupon?

Even in this time of economic despair, conditions in this country surpass the wildest imaginations of most of the world's population. Immigrants come to the United States in droves, searching for that abundance of wealth, freedom and opportunity that exists in few other places around the globe.

Yet somewhere along the road to success, or maybe just in the twilight hours of an early morning sale, Americans lost touch with the foundations of our humanity.

You will never see me ask Americans to apologize for our country's prosperity. But many people, and certainly plenty of us living in the idyllic embrace of Hanover, could use a cold slap of truth. While on a day-to-day basis our biggest worries are homework assignments and cell phone reception, many people around the world and in our own backyard endure hunger, poverty and violence that we simply cannot imagine.

Certainly Dartmouth students did not kill anyone on Black Friday, but as our country has progressed we have witnessed a material culture that promotes opulence and ignorance over harsh reality. Thus, last Friday morning when hundreds of people stepped on another human being in the midst of a Chinese-import feeding frenzy, no one understood the horrific murder they had just committed. Our personal integrity has fallen into such disrepair that less than 12 hours after celebrating Thanksgiving, no one questioned their actions as they bulldozed their way past emergency responders toward their limited edition Xbox.

In fact, it was my own reaction to this sickening event that left me more scared than the incident itself because I felt neither surprised nor shocked. Somehow, my mind accepted this death as simply the inevitable next step in our increasingly callous, shopaholic society. Unfortunately, I fear most people shared my initial reaction and that Jdimytai Damour's death will serve as little more than a footnote in the history of American gluttony, forgotten by next week's Christmas specials.

Even with surveillance video, it is doubtful that the police will ever be able to identify -- let alone bring to justice -- people who killed that man last Friday morning. Perhaps that is because this time it is not a few individuals, but rather all of American society that should bear a guilty verdict.

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