I’m used to reading about the high price of U.S. consumerism in the form of environmental devastation or economic inequality, but those ideas remain rather abstract and are measured in charts, graphs and lengthy academic articles. Yesterday, however, we saw the price paid in the much more intimate, familiar and tragic terms of a human life: Jdimytai Damour

From New York’s Newsday newspaper:

A stampede of shoppers in a Valley Stream Wal-Mart on Friday morning left one worker dead and at least three patrons injured after an impatient crowd broke down the store doors and trampled the seasonal employee, Nassau police said.

Jdimytai Damour of Jamaica, Queens, was pushed to the ground by the 2,000-plus crowd just before 5 a.m. as management was preparing to open the store, which is located across from the main Green Acres Mall building. Hundreds stepped over, around and on the 34-year-old worker as they rushed into the store.

Being Haitian, Damour’s family has probably seen its share of tragedy expressed through violent mobs, but how do you explain to this man’s parents that their son died because a reasonably healthy and well-fed (by global standards) Long Island mob just couldn’t wait to get its hands on a $69 Samsung digital camera?

The murder of Damour is a failure of values at the largest and smallest scales of society.

On one end, we have encouraged, and our economy has become dependent on, unsustainable levels of growth in consumer spending for products and services whose net value (post-accounting for “externalities”) is questionable. We have generally proven that beyond basic necessities, more money and more consumption do not increase happiness, yet our addiction is overwhelmingly enabled by billions of dollars and stimuli demanding that all we need to solve our deepest psychological needs is one more product.

On the other end, most people responsible for this act failed to respond with one ounce of compassion.

According to the New York Times:

Some shoppers who had seen the stampede said they were shocked. One of them, Kimberly Cribbs of Queens, said the crowd had acted like “savages.” Shoppers behaved badly even as the store was being cleared, she recalled.

“When they were saying they had to leave, that an employee got killed, people were yelling, ‘I’ve been on line since yesterday morning,’ ” Ms. Cribbs told The Associated Press. “They kept shopping.”

In the middle of these grand- and small-scale failures sits Wal-Mart. The largest employer in the world, and one of the few prospering during these collapsing economic times, saw fit to have a temporary worker open the store and completely failed to protect its employees and customers from a dangerous situation that was forseeable.

My heart goes out to Damour’s family, and I urge all of you to be careful. His life, and all of our lives, are so clearly worth more.

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