Story last updated at 12/3/2008 - 2:01 pm
How far would you go in search for the perfect present?
Would you value a 70 percent off sale more than human safety? Do the letters HDTV send you into a sociopathic shopping frenzy?
Everyone with a sound head on their shoulders would answer "no" to these questions. But in hard economic times, people are willing to make sacrifices to come out ahead a few bucks. On Black Friday at a New York Wal-Mart, that sacrifice was a human life.
Some New York shoppers proved they were willing to go far beyond just waiting in line for a day to reap the rewards of post-Thanksgiving Day deals - they showed the willingness to trample and kill a store clerk to be the first person at the checkout counter.
As was the case when 2,000 shoppers lined up outside a Valley Stream Wal-Mart stampeded through the front doors at 5 a.m. searching for bargains. By 5:03 a.m., a 34-year-old store employee had been badly trampled by shoppers and went into cardiac arrest. He died shortly after.
The Wal-Mart closed its doors immediately following the incident, with employees escorting enraged shoppers out of the store. According to reports, many of the people still inside were fumed because they had "waited in line all day" and showed little concern for the injured worker.
The Wal-Mart rampage is merely the most recent reminder of how grossly commercialized the holidays have become. When working-class dads and soccer moms (and probably a hockey mom, or two) let primal rage trump common sense and decency, we have no choice but to step back and reflect on our priorities as a society.
Like me, I'm sure many of you are disgusted by the behavior of these people. But ask yourself this: If you were in line at that same Wal-Mart, would you also have been swepted away in the mob mentality? Would you have stepped over, or on, another person? Of course not, but I'm sure if asked that same question last Thursday, every shopper responsible for that employee's death would answer "no" as well.
We're becoming a nation of consumers, not citizens. The same corporate greed we shake a finger at and blame for the economic meltdown has infiltrated the homes of middle America. I doubt that simply rediscovering the Christmas spirit will be enough to counter this hunger for worldly possessions.
We must demand more from ourselves and each other. If we don't, more holidays will be marred with pointless, preventable tragedy. No present, or even Christmas itself, should cost a life.
Charles Westmoreland is Managing Editor of the Capital City Weekly.E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org