By Ben Radstein, Staff Reporter

The day after Thanksgiving is considered the first day of the Christmas/Holiday shopping season. It is often called "Black Friday" because it is when retailers that have been operating in the red first turn a profit for the year. A lot of retailers open before the sunrise that day for big sales ending later that same morning. They have always drawn crowds, and frequently caused disputes over a place in line, or the last of a hot item, but this year it got ugly, very ugly. Across the nation, people stampeded when doors were opened, and riots broke out when items the crowds were seeking had run out. Seven fatalities and dozens of injuries have been reported.

The first known fatality occurred at  a Wal-Mart in Secaucus, New Jersey, a woman repeatedly stabbed a man with a kitchen knife taken from the housewares section to prevent him from buying the last Xbox 360. Another sad incident transpired at a Tucker, Georgia Toys R Us. One woman bludgeoned another to death with a baseball bat over an American Girl doll. She was heard yelling at her victim, "hasta la vista, baby." Cars were overturned and set on fire in Chicago, while a security guard was beaten to death by an angry mob in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. The first of these incidents involved a DVD player priced at $17.95, and the second was touched off by the Xbox 360. In Columbus, Ohio a shortage of Star Wars toys had shoppers at wit's end when someone yelled, "they've got some over here!" A stampede ensued. Four were left trampled. In Glendale, California, two men fighting over an electronic toy called a Roboraptor knocked over several shelves full of merchandise causing thousands of dollars in destruction.

We asked Dr. Janis Thayne of Brandine University, a noted psychology expert, for her take on all this. "It is a product of our materialistic consumer society," said Dr. Thayne. "We have been told by TV, radio, Hollywood and others around us that we must buy the love of our family and the esteem of our friends in the form of tangible gifts each December, or we risk finding ourselves unloved and abandoned in January.  We feel doubly obliged to recreate a storybook holiday for children that we think we remember from our childhood, but never really existed outside of movies. Add to that the notion that bargains can be had only on Black Friday, and you have a recipe for disaster. We also have a competitive every man for himself spirit in American society. Letting someone else have the last of something we have decided we need is not in our nature."

I asked Doctor Thayne what she thought could be done to make Black Friday, and the rest of the holiday shopping season less dangerous. She replied, "A heavy police presence. Human nature cannot be changed, so we have to work with it. The sight of real police officers will motivate most people to mind their manners. Fear of getting caught is the only thing that keeps a lot of people in line."

So much for peace on earth and good will toward men!

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