In case you didn?t know: Retailers are people, too!

Andrew Fingerett

Gunfire in a Toys R’ Us. A Wal-Mart employee trampled to death. It’s that time of year again, Black Friday and the holiday shopping rush. The time of year when people will literally kill to save 20 bucks on a copy of Guitar Hero.

The Long Island Wal-Mart employee’s name was Jdimytai Damour. He was knocked to his back and fatally wounded after a throng of raging beasts (I mean, people) surged through the locked storefront and ran shrieking into the aisles.

As if that isn’t disturbing enough, a woman reported to the Associated Press that people were actually complaining about how long they had been waiting in line when police began to clear the store and let people know that a man had died. As of this writing there is a video posted on YouTube that shows police and paramedics attempting to resuscitate Damour as onlookers chuckle in the background.

It seems common now for both shoppers and employees to get injured during the holiday shopping season, and Black Friday in particular. But for someone to actually die, as far as I know, is unprecedented. I tend to believe that the way customers behave during this shopping season is merely an exacerbation of something insidiously endemic in our culture: No one has any respect for retail employees. It’s as though employees are of no more importance than any of the other commodities that are bought and sold at a retail outlet, and this Wal-Mart incident is an extreme example of that.

I worked at a popular electronics store at a large mall for more than two years, and while I never saw anyone physically harmed, my coworkers and I have been threatened, harassed, stalked and spat on. I remember an angry mother who pounded on our door like a gorilla because we wouldn’t reopen the store for her 20 minutes after closing, and I remember having to tell a woman not to let her son urinate on the floor.

Customers have a right to demand good service, and employees have an obligation to provide it. But customers, in turn, have an obligation to realize that just because someone is standing behind a cash register, it doesn’t mean that person is their temporary slave. It takes a special kind of cowardice to take out personal anger on an employee while hiding behind the notion that he or she is being paid to be polite.

I decided not to stand for it during the tail-end of my retail career (and no, I was never fired). For example, a large, surly woman about my age came in with her brother. He wanted to return a defective pre-owned video-game console. My coworker decided to take him into our back room to test out some other pre-owned consoles in order to give him the one with the best quality. He was very polite. His sister was not. I was left alone at the register to deal with the horde of customers, and I tried to ignore her confrontational stares and the impatient tapping of her unnaturally long fingernails upon the counter. She began to interrupt my dealings with the customers after about ten minutes.

‘What the hell is taking so long?’ she asked.

I told her I would go and check for her. I found her brother and my coworker testing a console, as I expected, and they both looked like they were having fun. So I reported back to her.

‘They’re still in the back room, it looks like they found a good console. They should be out soon,’ I said.

‘Something could fall on his head and really hurt him back there. If he gets hurt, I’m going to sue your ass,’ she replied.

I didn’t work in a coal mine, I worked in an electronics store. And her brother seemed like a healthy, intelligent guy. I told her as politely as possible that she could go check on them if she’d like. That made her angrier, and as the minutes ticked by her behavior began to escalate. I told her brother that she was getting impatient, but he simply said I should ignore her, that she had a bit of a temper. Eventually I told her that she would have to calm down and that her behavior was getting to be ridiculous.

That’s when she lost her mind.

She started slapping the counter and spewing profanities. Everyone was either staring at her or yelling at me to hurry up and sell them something. As she shrieked at my manager to have me fired, I ran to get her brother to calm her down. He eventually dragged her out of the store, and later returned by himself to apologize to me. As we spoke, my curiosity got the best of me and I asked him if she had some type of disorder. He said she didn’t.

But she had an uncontrollable rage and a lack of regard for the guys behind the counter.Retail workers don’t exist solely to serve people, and maybe Damour would still be alive if more people kept that in mind.
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