NEW YORK (Reuters) - Black Friday turned into a black mark against American shoppers as riotous crowds brawled over video games, waffle irons and towels, drawing international condemnation and even raising questions about the state of humanity.
One of the most outrageous incidents of the day was in the Los Angeles area, where up to 20 people were injured after a woman at a Walmart used pepper spray to get an edge on other shoppers in a rush for Xbox game consoles.
Walmart seemed to have a worse day than many other retailers as shoppers screamed, shoved and elbowed each other to save a few bucks.
Incidents across the country included a man shot by robbers in the parking lot outside the San Leandro, California store and shoppers pepper sprayed by security at a store in Kinston, North Carolina.
A fight for bath towels, purportedly recorded at a Michigan store, has become a YouTube sensation. Cheap towels also caused mayhem at a Walmart in Oregon, Ohio.
“They were fighting over bath towels on sale for $1.88, as ridiculous as that sounds,” Police Sergeant Jason Druckenmiller said. “A woman tried to get her hands on some towels when she was pushed from behind, and that’s when she came out swinging.”
Company spokesman Greg Rossiter said violence at a handful of stores marred an otherwise safe start to the holiday shopping season at thousands of Walmart stores.
Videos of shopping pandemonium crowded YouTube by late Friday. One clip showed a crowd crushing and tearing apart boxes in a free-for-all for inexpensive cell phones. Another showed people flooding into a store as the gates were raised.
“This is what the human race has come to huh??” asked one person who commented online. Another said it “looked like a piranha feeding frenzy.”
The instant classic of the day was a video of an Arkansas melee over a $2 waffle iron. The shaky, 48-second clip shows a mass of squealing and shouting men, women and children climbing over each other, grabbing and tossing boxes, with one woman seemingly unaware that her pants were sliding down her backside.
“Oh my God!” a woman screamed in the only sentence discernible among the high-pitched shrieks. One person commenting on the video wrote: “The pinnacle of Western Civilization has arrived.”
A Walmart in Cave Creek, Arizona, was evacuated Thursday night after a suspicious package was found in an employee break room, Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Christopher Hegstrom said. A police robot retrieved the package, and bomb-sniffing dogs searched the store before it was reopened.
A video of a grandfather injured when he was knocked down by police at an Arizona Walmart went viral on YouTube. The video showed the man unconscious and bleeding from his face as police rolled him over and mopped up blood. Witnesses screamed at the police, accusing them of brutality and shouting for someone to call “911” for emergency medical assistance.
According to reports, the man was knocked down by police after putting a video game in his belt to free his hands so he could pick up his grandson as the crowd surged around them.
In the Manhattan borough of New York City, shoppers unhappy that Hollister’s flagship store was not opening at midnight, as other locations were, broke into the store and stole clothing, police said.
Black Friday drew bad press and mockery outside the United States.
In Toronto, a headline on the website of the Globe and Mail proclaimed: “Pepper-spray, shootings and other Black Friday madness.”
Dutch state television showed an overhead shot of hundreds of people camped outside a west coast store. “No tents from the Occupy movement here in California, but clients waiting hours until the stores open,” the anchor said.
Reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York, Harriet McLeod in South Carolina, Joe Rauch in North Carolina, Jessica Wohl and Eric Johnson in Chicago, Aman Ali in Ohio, Mary Slosson in Colorado; Writing by Barbara Goldberg and Ben Berkowitz in New York; Editing by David Bailey and Paul Simao