Black Friday Death Count Offers a Grim Public Service Announcement

"I try to be very unbiased. I'm just presenting it. People love to come to their own conclusions about it."

Carlo Allegri/Getty Images

Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen once smoothly crooned:

“When Black Friday comes
“I’ll stand down by the door
“And catch the grey men when they
“Dive from the 14th floor.”

Those lyrics come from the 1975 song “Black Friday,” which is about a greedy stock market speculator who makes a fortune, but has to flee to Australia to avoid backlash from the other investors whom he’s wronged.

Ultimately, the song is about death and finding solace amid sin. It may not be too far away from what Black Friday has come to mean in the United States: the day after Thanksgiving offering unbeatable, can’t-miss holiday gift sales. People get ruthless on Black Friday, literally killing each other to save the most on presents that are probably unnecessary in the first place.

And so perhaps unsurprisingly, there’s a website, Black Friday Death Count, that tracks the unfortunate losses.

The site is a pet project from a software developer named Travis Dent. He tells Inverse that it’s just one of many domain name ideas he’s come up with over the years. It has just happened to pan out because of how morbidly topical it’s become.

“It was 2008 when the first person got killed, and I was at my parent’s house for Thanksgiving dinner,” he said. “I was thinking, ‘that’s crazy, that’s wrong. This is going to get worse, though.’

“Being a web guy, I go and search the domain right away and it was available, so I bought it.”

So how does he keep it updated? “I was also introduced to a lot of the incidents from readers over the years,” Dent says. “I’m pretty sure we’ve got almost everything covered.” He also tries to avoid hoaxes: “I only accept articles from major news sources and only reference the actual reported deaths and injuries. In a few cases I have received personal accounts without coverage, so there is definitely more than just what the media is talking about.”

The site exists in a bit of a grey area. Nobody roots for fatalities on Black Friday, but they have become sensationalized by the media. When I ask, Dent agrees that his website functions a bit like a public service announcement. “I try to be very unbiased. I’m just presenting it. People love to come to their own conclusions about it. That’s great from my perspective. I don’t really want to put thoughts into people’s minds.”

He does like that it’s a platform for people to share their own stories, if they need to. “I just got an email a couple days ago from a lady who had a personal experience that was never in the news, but she went to the hospital,” he tells me. “No one would have heard about that, if there wasn’t a spot to put it.”

At the root of the phenomenon, of course, is Black Friday itself. It’s truly a consumer’s holiday. Although he tracks the carnage, Dent has no problem with the pseudo-holiday, even if he doesn’t choose to go shopping that day: “It never really appealed to me that, well, that whole chaotic scene. Some people like chaotic scenes. I like hanging out with my family on Thanksgiving.” And there’s just no way, as far as he sees, to avoid consumerism. It’s not such a bad thing in and of itself either: “I mean, I’m talking to you on an Apple cell phone. I use a laptop. It’s all those tools that make your life possible these days. It’s really hard to get away from going shopping, even if it’s just once a week to stock up on supplies.”

The relatively elevated danger of Black Friday shopping, however, does remain. It’s not something that needs to end, but could certainly use some improvements, which Dent says begins with the money-saving “doorbuster” sales: “If it’s literally a doorbuster, if you literally have a queue of people who are trying to get funneled through, people die in situations like that.”

He praises companies like REI, which is boycotting Black Friday and closing its stores, because they’re putting customer safety first. “Maybe in the next three years,” he speculates, “the cooler thing is going to be talking down on Black Friday.”

It’s a delicate balance, as both corporations and the general public seem to be in favor of Black Friday. People like to save money and they also like to buy gifts. Black Friday provides an opportunity to do both.

The solution may be striking a calmer balance between the two, and we may already have it with Cyber Monday, which, by the way, has its own Cyber Monday Death Count tracking site (spoiler: it’s zero). But, for now, Black Friday is here to stay.

Dent and his website are reminding us to enjoy it for what it is, but to not let it get out of hand. Let’s hope the count doesn’t reach 10 (deaths) and 100 (injuries) in 2015.

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