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Pepper-Spray Cop Begets Pepper-Spray Shopper

Leslie Savan

 by The Nation

First we had the Pepper-Spray Cop. Now we have the Pepper-Spray Shopper, an as-yet unidentified woman who allegedly sprayed open an avenue for herself amid crowds grasping for Black Friday bargains in an LA-area Walmart. Apparently, she needed an Xbox at half off.

As the Los Angeles Times described it:

20 customers, including children, were hurt in the 10:10 p.m. incident, officials said. Shoppers complained of minor skin and eye irritation and sore throats….

The woman used the spray in more than one area of the Walmart “to gain preferred access to a variety of locations in the store,” said Los Angeles Fire Capt. James Carson.

“She was competitive shopping,” he said.

Of course, big box stores have long encouraged “competitive shopping.” After an employee was trampled to death at a Long Island Walmart on Black Friday in 2008, stores vowed to improve their crowd control. But they don’t advertise their sales with the words “door busters”—with that hint of drug-raid-level violence—for nothing. They know that hysteria can drive higher sales. It works so well that stores have been moving door busters back earlier and earlier, so that this year Black Friday at Walmarts across the country began on Thanksgiving night, forcing employees to work on the holiday in order to sow the itching powder of urgency among customers.

Friday’s “Day of Spray,” as TPM dubbed it, included not only reports of an off-duty cop pepper-spraying a shopper during a disturbance at a North Carolina Walmart, but a cop tasing someone in an Alabama Walmart, and shootings and robberies outside Walmarts in South Carolina and California. (I won’t pin any of these actions directly on this obnoxious, constantly running Walmart TV commercial, but it does portray a shopper as a babbling, practically drooling idiot.)

But the suspected Pepper Spray Shopper—who turned herself in to police, though her name hasn’t been released—provides the most telling example of our twisted economic times. If she did what she’s accused of, then this woman picked up the same device she’s almost certainly seen police use against Occupy protesters and used it against her fellow citizens; she may be part of the 99 percent, but a competitive edge is a competitive edge.

And that is, of course, what the 1 percent want, a debilitating free-for-all among the masses in the Promised Land of constant competition. Stay divided and be conquered. Sic the middle class on, say, public-employee union members for their health benefits rather than demand that corporations (like the famously anti-union Walmart) provide decent benefits.

Republicans tell you all the time: don’t direct your frustration at the “job creators.” They and their tax breaks must be defended in the name of “freedom,” and sometimes, sure, it takes an increasingly militarized police force to do it. Pop culture doo-dads like HD TVs, Xboxes, the latest i-Product—the tokens of capitalist acceptance—on the other hand, are worth gassing your neighbor over.

This Ayn Rand logic was in fact what set the Tea Party in motion in early 2009. Remember CNBC correspondent Rick Santelli’s rant on the trading floor of the Chicago Board of Traders? He was incensed at a White House proposal that would have helped troubled homeowners restructure their mortgages. “This is America!” he yelled, and, turning to the traders behind him, asked, “How many of you people want to pay for your neighbor’s mortgage that has an extra bathroom and can’t pay their bills? Raise their hand!” To which the traders booed as of one throat. “President Obama,” Santelli shouted, “are you listening?”

Helping your neighbor in a crisis—even if you’d also help yourself by preserving the value of your home—well, that just smacks of socialism. In fact, any sign of public cooperation should be regarded with suspicion. As the UC Berkeley chancellor, Robert Birgeneau, wrote of Occupy demonstrators there two weeks ago, “linking arms and forming a human chain…is not non-violent civil disobedience.” It’s a dangerous hint of collectivism, a Hayek-raising horror that must be stopped before that human chain fetters the 1 percent.

We’ll know for sure that the masses get it when they finally start using private drones for Presidents’ Day sales. Until then, vigilance…

© 2017 The Nation

Leslie Savan

Leslie Savan writes about politics, media and the politics of media.

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