Black Friday shopping gets a little spicy in Los Angeles

Why do we buy presents for each other at Christmas?  To express our feelings of love and appreciation, and to celebrate with joy the season in which God gave us our greatest gift.  In what manner can we best exemplify those qualities?  In Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley, one shopper took an odd approach this morning:

Matthew Lopez went to the Wal-Mart in Porter Ranch on Thursday night for the Black Friday sale but instead was caught in a pepper-spray attack by a woman who authorities said was “competitive shopping.”

“Competitive shopping” … otherwise known as “assault and battery.”  Not that the mysterious attacker was alone in the gladiatorial approach to shopping, either:

Lopez said customers were already in the store when a whistle signaled the start of the Black Friday sale at 10 p.m., sending shoppers hurtling in search of deeply discounted items.

Here’s a hint to retailers everywhere.  If you want your customers to behave in a rational and dignified manner, don’t treat your store like a football field with 1,000 different teams playing all at once.  If you do, then this is probably the inevitable result:

Lopez said that by the time he arrived at the video games, the display had been torn down. Employees attempted to hold back the scrum of shoppers and pick up merchandise even as customers trampled the video games and DVDs strewn on the floor.

“It was absolutely crazy,” he said.

Another customer said screams erupted after about 100 people waiting in line to snag Xbox gaming consoles and Wii video games got into a shoving match.

It was about this point when the pepper spray got deployed:

“People started screaming, pulling and pushing each other, and then the whole area filled up with pepper spray,” the Sylmar resident said. “I guess what triggered it was people started pulling the plastic off the pallets and then shoving and bombarding the display of games. It started with people pushing and screaming because they were getting shoved onto the boxes.”

The pepper spray wafted through the air, Seminario said, and she breathed some in and started coughing. Her face also started itching.

At this point, the story begins to look a little different.  Instead of a random shopper assaulting calm and polite fellow patrons, a case could be made that the shopper panicked at being in the middle of a store-incited riot, and hit the pepper spray as a defense.  She had two children with her, and might have been concerned about them getting trampled when the shoving started — although what she was doing at a Wal-Mart at 10 pm with two children is another question entirely.  Police did not arrest her, which doesn’t make a lot of sense from the brief MSNBC report on the incident but seems a little more understandable from the LA Times’ report above.

That’s not the only such incident, either. CNN has video of another fight in a Florida Wal-Mart on Black Friday, and reports popping up in other cities as well:

Police arrested a man in Kissimmee, Florida, on a resisting arrest charge after they wrestled him to the ground to stop a fight at a jewelry counter at Walmart around 1 a.m. Friday, CNN affiliate Central Florida News 13 reported.

The other man in the fight was allowed to leave the store, the station reported.

And in Rome, New York, a brawl broke out in the electronics department at a Walmart moments after midnight, CNN affiliate WSTM reported, citing the Oneida County Sheriff’s Office. Two people were taken to the hospital for treatment of minor injuries, the station reported.

Decades ago, I worked in retail on four or five “Black Fridays,” including two at Sears, and it was a grueling experience — but nothing like what happens today.  Stores encourage this kind of combat shopping with limited-time loss leaders, silly deadlines, and now whistle-blowing to release the Kraken, as it were.  Rational people don’t put themselves through these conditions to find a couple of cheap deals, and the spectacle makes a mockery out of the entire reason we shop for gifts at this time of year.  I’m pretty certain that the message of the season isn’t “Every man for himself!”

We need to step back from panicked consumerism and reconsider the entire Black Friday concept.  The love of family and friends does not rely on getting a cheap Wiii or a bargain price on a flat-screen TV, and if it did, it would hardly be worth the degrading experience that it takes to get these material goods.  We are worshiping something else at Christmas than the Lord if this is what we do to celebrate His birth.

Update: The Anchoress writes that she “despise[s] Black Friday”:

I hate the way consumers are urged to haul their Thanksgiving-exhausted selves out to stores — away from family members that have often traveled some distance to come together — so they can surrender their human dignity or assault the dignity of others in order to snag a ten-dollar sweater and a waffle-maker for $9.99.

And I hate the way consumers go along with it.

I hate the way the mad buying and bad behavior is attached to Christmas — the coming of the Christ was meant to set us free, and yet the over-commercialization of “the Holidays” feeds our greed and tethers us to our possessions in a way that can only weigh us down, more firmly, to earthly concerns.

We are not released, only further encumbered.


Update II: You have to love the CBS News assessment of Black Friday as mostly peaceful:

Several violent incidents broke out across the country amid what have been mostly peaceful Black Friday crowds, as millions of shoppers rushed into stores that opened their doors hours earlier than usual on the most anticipated shopping day of the year.

The similarity to media reporting on the Occupy movement is …. duly noted.