Wal-Mart On Black Friday: Who Done It?

01/02/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Jdimytai Damour's death in Valley Stream, Long Island did not come from Wal-Mart, or from Black Friday -- it was not just negligence. It was murder.

Our Stop Shopping Gospel Choir has gone with me to the giant doors of Macy's at the crack of Buy Nothing Day for several years now -- pushing back at the steroidal horde, spinning in it, laughing with it, trading elbow jabs and apologies, and ultimately we shot through the doors, carried backwards, trying to keep our balance as we keep shouting "Stop Shopping!" We learned of Jdimytai's fate after we had been escorted back out to 34th Street by stern Macy's managers.

Two days later, that Sunday night -- we went to the Valley Stream Wal-Mart to hold a candle-light vigil and sing a bit. We pinned pictures of Jdimytai to our robes. It was windy and rainy, the litter blowing across the pavement -- we all felt dazed by the very ordinary looking electronic doors with the abandoned shopping carts. Teenagers huddled under umbrellas. Some families emerging from their cars clapping to the refrains of "What Would Jesus Buy?" People joined our prayer. Then we talked to witnesses and co-workers...

The promise we made that night was "Jdimytai, we see you standing there inside the doors, and we will stop pressing the glass, we will slow down." This promise says that we have all created consumerism, the system. We will work to create local, more compassionate economies. Local-lujah! The loading of the gun with 2,000 bodies and firing it at the flimsy doors with the minimum wage folks inside was set-up by everybody being broke, the lottery-like now-you-see-it-now-you-don't of the best deals, all the pre-dawn hype... all this comes from a system that grows itself with our open participation...

This has been our refrain in this week's press appearances at CNN, CBS, Fox and Democracy Now. Most of our hosts, however, sought to organize the facts into "stories," rather than "systems." To them -- a system can't be an actor in the drama. A system is not newsy -- there isn't enough oomph in such general concepts. Not enough scandalous glory or guilt. We need actors! -- fueled by desire, a crisis, a hero and a villain...

And so, the "savage" shoppers, the holiday temp workers, the elderly greeters leading the prayer service, Jdimytai's relatives from exotic Haiti, and "evil" Wal-Mart executives, when they take their roles, don't represent larger forces -- that are only cast as themselves. They are distraught and passionate. They are psychological. They cannot refer to any cause. There can be no politics. Yet consumerism is the force that left Wal-Mart and Home Depot (two big box supporters of Bush) to anchor this mall called Green Acres: to pave 15 acres, to load in sweatshop goods from trucks, with packaging and advertising drowning out the surrounding community so that Valley Stream's neighborhood stores went dark years ago.

The mall's "system" is hundreds of individuals and millions of dollars disappearing into a camouflage that we have got to see through. It is not an economy that works, that causes real prosperity. It is, in fact, violent. It was violent before Jdimytai's passing. We need to teach each other to cast it as a character in the drama of this past Black Friday. We might learn to call a system "savage" and then be able to do something about it. The murderer might not escape so easily.