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Mall Stampede

The proper name of the Valley Stream mall in Long Island, NY… (actually Nassau County)… is the “Green Acres” mall, named after a retail establishment that no longer exists there. It was built in 1956 and was enclosed in 1968… which is when I first visited there with my family. I was 8yo.

It’s been almost 20-years since I lived in NY[C], and I truly had no idea that that a Wal-Mart was doing business there. I don’t patronize Wal-Mart but that’s mostly due to location and convenience… I wouldn’t be able to find the closest one without a map.

When I saw the headline of a trampling death at a “Long Island” Wal-Mart, I immediately thought of my uncle, who had been a greeter at the Smithtown (Long Island, Suffolk County, NY) location well into his 80s.


My heart goes out to the victims and their friends and families… and especially to the loved ones of the man that did not survive this preventable incident. It is always difficult to lose someone close to you… but for that to happen during a holiday season and under such circumstances is particularly traumatic.


Some have taken to blaming the shoppers and I wish to address that:


Although the study of “crowd dynamics” is reputed to be a new and modern academic pursuit, understanding of such is actually very ancient. I think the important point to remember is that it is virtually impossible to “reason” with an agitated crowd… as one can no more “reason” with a flood, hurricane, or avalanche.

Once a crowd like that starts moving, it becomes an unstoppable entity… a force of nature akin to a landslide. From a pure survival aspect, you either go with it or (if at all possible) get out of the way. Examples of this are legend. (Scroll down to “List of human stampedes”.)

In this case, considering the hyped nature of the attraction, and the well known aspects of crowd dynamics, the responsibility of this tragedy rests squarely on the establishment(s) that created the stimulus in the first place, and failed to adequately provide for the so-easily-foreseeable potential for disaster.


Of course this cannot abate the heartrending loss of a loved one… but I think it’s important to keep focus on the responsible party.
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11 Comments On This Entry

Sorry, but until a crows gathers, there can be no "crowd dynamics".
Absolving human beings of responsibility for their actions once part of a "crowd" ignores that each and every one of those humans had the option to NOT be in the crowd in the first place.
The other dynamics at play, store configuration, advertising, news media coverage, and even some manufacturers pricing policies, ALL play a part, but not enough to deny the FACT that the people showed up.
And it's not like the thing(s) being offered at some 'great' price were absolutely necessary to live.
A cheap Xbox or digital whiz golly whatever will not ever be the difference between life and death.
But enough people showed up to buy one, that THEN the crowd dynamics issue kicked in.
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USNJIMRET, on Nov 29 2008, 07:42 PM, said:

Sorry, but until a crows gathers, there can be no "crowd dynamics".
Absolving human beings of responsibility for their actions once part of a "crowd" ignores that each and every one of those humans had the option to NOT be in the crowd in the first place.
The other dynamics at play, store configuration, advertising, news media coverage, and even some manufacturers pricing policies, ALL play a part, but not enough to deny the FACT that the people showed up.
And it's not like the thing(s) being offered at some 'great' price were absolutely necessary to live.
A cheap Xbox or digital whiz golly whatever will not ever be the difference between life and death.
But enough people showed up to buy one, that THEN the crowd dynamics issue kicked in.

I am going to disagree with you. I went to Wal-Mart for a back up computer last year because my computer was acting up. I could live without a tv, a radio and without a car before I could live without a computer. The problem with these sales is not the sales themselves but the limited amount of items. If the stores would not make the items so limited the customer would not feel so pushed to get them. The store actually limits the amount of items on purpose though because their goal is to get the customer in the store and do a bait and switch. People should be allowed to go to a sale without being criticized. I do not go to the sales because after I went last year, the only time I have ever gone, I realized they were a scam. When they ran out of the cheap computers they tried selling me another one for double the price. They had less than 10 of the advertised computers. I hate crowds, do not usually drive at night but the price of this computer had made it worth it. This year they had a gps which I could have used since I get lost easily and have panic attacks, but it was not worth it. You are very judgmental. What tees me off is that they could have entered orderly . If stores are going to run these sales they should have cops there for crowd control because they are asking for a problem.
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Fine then. I'm judgmental.
I can live with that.
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USNJIMRET, on Nov 29 2008, 09:16 PM, said:

Fine then. I'm judgmental.
I can live with that.

I am also sure that none of the people who went to the sale planned on killing someone. I still think it is the responsibility of the store to handle the crowd better. They know what they are getting into, in fact the crowd is what they want because they want to do lots of sales, esp if they can bait and switch.
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I agree that everyone made an individual decision to go there… but why? It was the hyped event that had drawn them there. True, they could have turned away when they saw how many people had gathered… and I’m sure some did (I would have)… but even the crowding has been hyped. It’s an annual event and we’ve been hearing for years if not decades how many people show to take advantage of great bargains on this one day. There were also no doubt, agitators in the crowd, some folks more pushy than the others… but that too should be anticipated.

Perhaps this horrible and tragic event will lead to more thought being put into the whole concept of “Black Friday”… both from the perspective of the retail establishments… and from the folks that are drawn there.
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Maybe these stores need to put up a very narrow blockade going into the door and allow only 10 people in per minute. Of course there would need to be armed police there to enforce it... at the cost of taxpayers. It's nuts. We have a pretty huge Black Friday crowd here too, but we never have an incident like this. I have a friend who works at Target and she said the shoppers were all polite and the day went off without one incident. Why? Why do some crowds go ape and other not?

On another note, when I looked at the list of stampedes (very interesting, by the way!) I recalled hearing a first hand account from a woman who was in the towers on 9/11. She recalled how there was a huge crowd of people and they all knew they needed to get out of there and fast. She said a man led them to the stair well with a very commanding voice and they all followed him. They had to synchronize their steps because if one person fell they knew that it could cost them all a precious second. Now, how could a mob control their behavior to that degree with the certainty of instant death breathing down the nape of their necks, yet people can't get a grip on their behavior at shopping malls, sports games, and nightclubs?
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Riothouse, on Nov 30 2008, 08:18 AM, said:

Maybe these stores need to put up a very narrow blockade going into the door and allow only 10 people in per minute. Of course there would need to be armed police there to enforce it... at the cost of taxpayers. It's nuts. We have a pretty huge Black Friday crowd here too, but we never have an incident like this. I have a friend who works at Target and she said the shoppers were all polite and the day went off without one incident. Why? Why do some crowds go ape and other not?

On another note, when I looked at the list of stampedes (very interesting, by the way!) I recalled hearing a first hand account from a woman who was in the towers on 9/11. She recalled how there was a huge crowd of people and they all knew they needed to get out of there and fast. She said a man led them to the stair well with a very commanding voice and they all followed him. They had to synchronize their steps because if one person fell they knew that it could cost them all a precious second. Now, how could a mob control their behavior to that degree with the certainty of instant death breathing down the nape of their necks, yet people can't get a grip on their behavior at shopping malls, sports games, and nightclubs?

I'm working today and only have time for a quick response. I would say the difference between the office building and the store is that the shopping event is inherently competitive. We can easily imagine folks being cooperative when those left behind will likely not survive. On the other hand, can you imagine a shopper saying: “Oh, there’s only one left, dear, you take it.” No, the entire point of being there is to get those bargains. There are no external incentives for cooperation.

The difference between the office building and the nightclub is that folks in the nightclub were probably drinking. Alcohol reduces inhibitions, presumably including the inhibition against literally walking on others to save yourself.

There’s probably more to it than that, but I’m not able to delve into the convergence of individual psychology into crowd psychology right now. :whistle:
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MADGestic, on Nov 30 2008, 10:02 AM, said:

I'm working today and only have time for a quick response. I would say the difference between the office building and the store is that the shopping event is inherently competitive. We can easily imagine folks being cooperative when those left behind will likely not survive. On the other hand, can you imagine a shopper saying: "Oh, there's only one left, dear, you take it." No, the entire point of being there is to get those bargains. There are no external incentives for cooperation.

The difference between the office building and the nightclub is that folks in the nightclub were probably drinking. Alcohol reduces inhibitions, presumably including the inhibition against literally walking on others to save yourself.

There's probably more to it than that, but I'm not able to delve into the convergence of individual psychology into crowd psychology right now. :whistle:


See this is what disturbs me the most. In Black Friday's of the past there have been incidents of injury and death. I find it very scary that the chance at a cheap doo-hickey (fancy southern term there) would be worth risking someone's neck over. I guess I just don't get it, and to be truthful I hope never do understand it totally. The external incentive should be decency and respect for human life over consumerism. The saddest part of this whole story, Mad, is when the shoppers continued on in the store after they found out that the employee had been killed! The stampede and being afraid to stop or be trampled... I understand that, but to keep on browsing the DVD's after learning the man whose body you walked across had died and you share a foot in the deed just feels sociopathic to me. It should have disturbed them greatly, and yet there were only a couple of them who walked away empty handed because of the loss of life.
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Riothouse, on Nov 30 2008, 02:25 PM, said:

MADGestic, on Nov 30 2008, 10:02 AM, said:

I'm working today and only have time for a quick response. I would say the difference between the office building and the store is that the shopping event is inherently competitive. We can easily imagine folks being cooperative when those left behind will likely not survive. On the other hand, can you imagine a shopper saying: "Oh, there's only one left, dear, you take it." No, the entire point of being there is to get those bargains. There are no external incentives for cooperation.

The difference between the office building and the nightclub is that folks in the nightclub were probably drinking. Alcohol reduces inhibitions, presumably including the inhibition against literally walking on others to save yourself.

There's probably more to it than that, but I'm not able to delve into the convergence of individual psychology into crowd psychology right now. :whistle:


See this is what disturbs me the most. In Black Friday's of the past there have been incidents of injury and death. I find it very scary that the chance at a cheap doo-hickey (fancy southern term there) would be worth risking someone's neck over. I guess I just don't get it, and to be truthful I hope never do understand it totally. The external incentive should be decency and respect for human life over consumerism. The saddest part of this whole story, Mad, is when the shoppers continued on in the store after they found out that the employee had been killed! The stampede and being afraid to stop or be trampled... I understand that, but to keep on browsing the DVD's after learning the man whose body you walked across had died and you share a foot in the deed just feels sociopathic to me. It should have disturbed them greatly, and yet there were only a couple of them who walked away empty handed because of the loss of life.

I agree with that comment totally. If you listen to the video there were even people who thought it was funny. We really do live in a sick society.
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Quote

James Edwards: Why the big secret? People are smart. They can handle it.
Agent K (Kay): A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it.


I think that little quote sums it all up.
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I’m having a hard time imagining myself in the shopping scenario so let me use a different example. I remember from the thread, someone used a personal example of going to a rock concert… let me use that. (I don’t recall ever being in a dangerous crowd-press; I’m just trying to think my way through this.)


So we’re going to the show, it’s very crowded, and somewhere after the ticket-taker there’s a pinch-point. All of a sudden we’re pressed tight against our neighbors, being pushed/carried along by the crowd. I imagine that folks in that situation will be huffing and grunting, complaining, and some will be futilely shouting things like: “STOP PUSHING!” Feelings will range from mere discomfort and annoyance to actual pain and panic, with the feelings of most falling somewhere in the middle. After what seems like forever but is only a minute or so, we pass the pinch-point, and then there’s somewhat more room as everyone disperses to find their own seats.

What do you do? Do you turn around and try to fight your way out through the same crowd? Do you find an out-of-the way place to stand (if any), wait for the crowd to thin out, and just go home? Or do you find your seat, sit down and watch the show?

I think I would stay and watch the show… especially after what I just went through to get there.


Same situation as above; but this time you saw someone off to the side being aided. I would probably find it unsurprising that someone had been injured in that press, but I don’t think that would have stopped me from watching the show.

But now let’s say that as you were being pushed along in that noisy throng, you actually felt yourself step on someone. I think that would trigger an “emergency” in my mind, and I would start doing whatever I could to help them (if possible), or at least try to notify someone in authority (if any). At that point it’s “life or death” so the heck with the show; you do whatever it takes to resolve the crisis.

So I think there is a range of reactions based upon one’s personal experience in the crowd.


In applying this to the shopping incident, I have to wonder how many folks actually knew that someone had been injured, and how many of those knew the extent of those injuries. In the example above, I wouldn’t expect there to be a public announcement prior to the performance that someone had been seriously injured; and I suspect that the store wouldn't do that. (Maybe they would, or did, I don’t know.) But unless I had firsthand proximity to (or knowledge of) the trampling victim, I probably would have just gone about my business. Again, after going through all that, I’m going to push on to my goal.

Alternately, if I did have such knowledge, I would have reacted differently and don’t think that I would have continued shopping. And if while in the store (or exiting it) I learned that someone had been very seriously injured (must less trampled to death), I’m sure that I wouldn’t have laughed it off.

I have no doubt that there were instigators in that crowd, as well as some that reacted inappropriately to the news. But I’m still not willing to cast judgment on everyone that was there; nor am I willing to relieve the establishment of their responsibility. You can’t invite/encourage hundreds or thousands of folks to show up at your store at the same time… and then take no responsibility for the consequences.


Yes, it’s very sad that some people act inappropriately, but that’s a possibility (probability) in any situation. If there is evidence against the instigators in the crowd… (those that “yelled ‘fire!’” so to speak)… then I would support their prosecution under the law. But unlike (let’s say) a stadium, your average retail store is not designed to handle such crowds; and it’s irresponsible to encourage that crowding without taking appropriate measures.

And clearly, putting inadequately trained employees on the “front line” is not an “appropriate measure”.

On a final note, I can’t help but notice that the media is still caught up in the “Black Friday/Cyber Monday” phenomenon… comparing sales figures to prior years and (intentionally or not) encouraging folks to take part. I worked through this Holiday and this weekend; commuting and listening to local news radio as usual. I heard one news report (blip) on the tragic trampling death of the employee in Valley Stream… and umpteen other reports on how well (or poorly) the Retail Industry was doing this “season”.

I’m usually not a “blame the media” kind of guy, but I’d like to see them rebalance their priorities on this… to take a real hard look at themselves and the part they played in this. I’ve often thought that when they do the traffic report and announce “curiosity delays” around an accident scene, that they should take the extra step and actually recommend that folks not slow down to ogle. But I guess that wouldn’t be objective, inserting opinion into the news like that.
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