Police want to identfy stampeders from Wal-Mart video

Police in Valley Stream have begun reviewing videotape from the Wal-Mart store in which an employee died as hundreds of people stampeded into the store.  They want to identify the people who trampled Jdimytai Damour to death, apparently with an eye towards prosecution, but that seems like an impossible task for a variety of reasons:

Police were reviewing video from surveillance cameras in an attempt to identify who trampled to death a Wal-Mart worker after a crowd of post-Thanksgiving shoppers burst through the doors at a suburban store and knocked him down.

Criminal charges were possible, but identifying individual shoppers in Friday’s video may prove difficult, said Detective Lt. Michael Fleming, a Nassau County police spokesman.

Other workers were trampled as they tried to rescue the man, and customers stepped over him and became irate when officials said the store was closing because of the death, police and witnesses said.

At least four other people, including a woman who was eight months pregnant, were taken to hospitals for observation or minor injuries. The store in Valley Stream on Long Island closed for several hours before reopening.

Police said about 2,000 people were gathered outside the Wal-Mart doors before its 5 a.m. opening at a mall about 20 miles east of Manhattan. The impatient crowd knocked the employee, identified by police as Jdimytai Damour, to the ground as he opened the doors, leaving a metal portion of the frame crumpled like an accordion.

The problem with mobs is that, in most cases, individual actions cannot get separated from those of the crowd itself.  In this case, even if the videotape could show the individuals who trampled Damour well enough to identify them, did they intend to trample him — or did they get shoved onto him by people behind them?  How does any one individual get assigned criminal intent beyond a reasonable doubt?

The reports yesterday show that Wal-Mart itself bears the bulk of the responsibility for the problem:

With 2,000 people responding to the ads for Black Friday before the doors opened, Wal-Mart should have had a significant, trained security presence on hand.  Rope lines should have been set up, instead of having people crushing up to the entrance.  Events like this need that kind of organization precisely because mobs act irrationally.

And what were the deals?  They didn’t look that significant, especially in light of what happened:

Items on sale at the Valley Stream Wal-Mart included a Samsung 50-inch Plasma HDTV for $798, a Bissel Compact Upright Vacuum for $28, a Samsung 10.2 megapixel digital camera for $69 and DVDs such as “The Incredible Hulk” for $9.

Two thousand people rushed the entrance of Wal-Mart for that?  Perhaps Wal-Mart got legitimately surprised by the response.