Jdimytai Damour: 10 Years Later
Of all the many “This Is America” stories that illuminate how we’re going wrong in this country, the story of Jdimytai Damour — and how Walmart and police failed him on Black Friday ten years ago — remains one of the most important stories for which to bear witness.
For a decade now, I have made a point every Black Friday of publicly saying the name Jdimytai Damour. Lots of us vaguely know the story — a few years back, a guy was trampled on Black Friday in a stampede of early morning shoppers at Walmart. But I’ve found, in these past ten years since Jdimytai died, that few people know any details of what happened to this man, why it happened, and what’s happened since.
This is Jdimytai. These are the only two photos of him that have ever circulated.
He died at age 34, on November 28, 2008 in the early morning hours of Black Friday. Yes, he was trampled under the feet of rabid, frenzied Walmart shoppers in Long Island, New York. But the mere trampling itself isn’t the most important part of this event. What’s most important is that Jdimytai — an overnight stock clerk at the Valley Stream Walmart store — was asked by his employer to use his 6 foot, 5 inch body as a barrier for a crowd of over 2,000 people. The same was asked of a few fellow employees who were also deemed to be “bigger staffers,” whose bodies could be used in such a way.
It all began with a failure of store management to properly gauge both the turnout of the crowd and the effectiveness of the plastic barriers they’d set in place the night before the store opened. At around 2am — three hours before the store opened and Jdimytai was trampled — Nassau County Police were called to wrangle the crowd and push them away from the front doors and back behind the barriers they’d broken through. The cops attempted this and soon left, claiming it “wasn’t in their job description.” Ironically, the man who both Nassau County Police and Walmart management eventually failed that morning, along with his fellow “bigger staffers,” were the only ones being asked to do something outside of their job description. At 5am, the store opened and Jdimytai was killed by the onslaught of shoppers rushing the front doors. Among the people also injured was a pregnant woman who attested that Jdimytai had tried to help her before he died.
The story made national news. Nassau County’s District Attorney pursued a charge against Walmart for reckless endangerment, which the corporation avoided by offering a $2 million settlement, $400,000 of which went to Jdimytai’s family and those injured in the stampede. But another little-known part of the story is just as important a fact as what Jdimytai was asked to do with his body: When OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) followed suit after the Nassau County DA and filed a safety hazard charge against Walmart, the corporation spent over $1 million fighting the charge in courtrooms from 2009 until 2015, when they finally relented and agreed to pay the OSHA fine. The amount of that fine they’d spent over $1 million dollars defiantly refusing? $7,000. Their claim during that time of fighting the charge: “the citation was unfair because safeguarding staffers from crowds wasn’t a federal standard when the incident occurred.” (All of this received very little news coverage — the quote and much of what I’m sharing with you comes from a New York Daily News followup about Jdimytai shortly after Walmart finally paid the $7,000 fine in 2015.)
Now you’ve not only read the name Jdimytai Damour, as we approach the 10th anniversary of his passing, but you understand the implications surrounding the circumstance of his death. This man was asked by his employer — one of the most profitable, well-to-do corporations in America, who in spite of nearly limitless resources and decades in business, were unprepared for the monster they’d created in the biggest shopping day of the year — to literally place his body in harm’s way for the sake of retail. He worked overnight in the stock room. Retracing hourly wages for jobs like his circa 2008, he probably made just over $8 an hour at that time, plus a little extra holiday pay that he never lived to see.
For a little over $8 an hour, Jdimytai was expected to not only step out of his job description, but to endanger his own life doing so. When the corporation who put him in harm’s way was taken to task by OSHA for putting him in harm’s way, for six years that corporation was willing to spend over $1 million to avoid paying $7,000…just to make a statement that they hadn’t done anything wrong.
This is America. This is America in the throes of rabid consumerism.
And in past years, on past Black Fridays, I’ve spoken Jdimytai’s name without explicitly asking anything of anyone. This year, on the eve of this Black Friday, I’m asking much more specifically and clearly: Please don’t shop on Black Friday if you don’t have to. The deals aren’t worth these kinds of existential sacrifices.
In America, we love the idea that we can be better. But when we’re asked to do better, we buck against it much of the time. Please don’t buck against this one. This is a way we can be better. We can stop playing the game of Black Friday anytime we want to. We can shut it down. We *should* shut it down.
You know more than the vague headline. You know the name Jdimytai Damour, and you know who failed him and how. I ask you to think about this tonight, tomorrow, and onward.