I had a rather harrowing experience this past Friday, which was Black Friday, to be specific.
Black Friday is always hellish when it comes to retail. Since I was working in a mall, I expected much more traffic. It was a bit more stressful than at my previous job, where there were never Black Friday sales to begin with, but I was managing to deal with it.
What I did not expect was to almost lose my life that night.
There was a shooting at the mall in a store on the lower level. A huge crowd suddenly stampeded into our store in a panic, and all of my co-workers ran toward the back. I don’t recall if I heard gunshots or not. I assume the immense fear and anxiety is to blame for the unclear memory. But I will never forget hiding in our backroom, scared for my life, wondering if we’ll get out, wondering if we’ll get home.
We hid for around twenty to thirty minutes. Some of my braver co-workers peeked outside the door every so often. The store’s shutters were down, so no one could enter. Eventually, police came and led us to one of the mall’s emergency exits, which was luckily right across from our store. We all ran. I got as far away from the mall as I could and call a relative to pick me up.
Minus the one person who was shot, no one in the mall was hurt and the mall was shut down for the night. The victim wasn’t critically injured, so he/she will hopefully have a speedy recovery.
It goes without saying I was shaken up, as were a lot of my co-workers, especially those of us who hadn’t worked in in the mall prior to this holiday season. One of my co-workers who’d been there for a few years tried to comfort me by saying that mall has a shooting every year (a few minutes of Google searching proved her correct). I have no idea how that’s supposed to be comforting. The mall was up and running the next day like normal, but most of the mall’s workers did not come in the next day. Neither did I. Some people can handle, but some can’t, and I don’t believe violence, and the risk of losing your life, should be part of a retail job, of all things. We didn’t sign up for that. Personally, if I’d known that mall has a shooting annually, I would never have applied. I’ve done active shooter drills at school, and I was still in no way prepared for that.
The bigger question to me, however, is why any sale is worth violence, let alone the loss of someone’s life. I’ve read about Black Friday violence. I know about the crazy crowds that trample each other, that fight to get what’s on sale before it runs with no regard for who they hurt. I know it’s been going on for decades now, but that only makes it worse. The USA is supposed to be the greatest country, correct? How are we the greatest when all it takes to reduce us to the behavior of savage animals is a discount for things we most likely don’t need? Why are workers expected to deal with the resulting violence, that could potentially spell the end of someone’s life in some cases, such as mine recently? Why is this just accepted by us?
I do not care how preachy I sound when I say this: No sale is worth someone’s well-being! No sale is worth their life!
It’s no wonder to me now why retail has such a high turnover rate. Note that outside of pharmacies and grocery stores, retail is not exactly an essential service. Yes, we need clothes, but we can by without spending $25 on a shirt. Seriously. I’ve bought very pretty and long-lasting clothes for cheaper. That’s not to say I don’t think people should be able to indulge themselves, but you won’t die without them. For the fact it’s not an essential and it’s, for the most part, an easy one to learn, I do understand why it pays so little (I’m not of the opinion minimum wage workers don’t deserve a livable wage because no one deserves to go hungry, but that’s another topic that’s been beaten to death), but if risking your well-being and possibly your life is going to be part of the job, it needs to start paying a lot more. And no, “time and a half” doesn’t cover it, and not stores give that anyway.
Though I may not have a choice, if I can help it, I will not work at the mall again. Yes, a shooting can happen anywhere, but that mall’s an annual target and all it takes is being in the wrong place at the wrong time. If that were to happen to me, everyone would cry I shouldn’t have been there (in fact, my boss at my other did put the blame for the shooting on me for that very reason). I don’t think I’m paranoid for wanting to avoid it, knowing its history of previous shootings. Just because businesses are willing to trade lives for sales doesn’t mean I am.
Off my soapbox I go.