Police pepper spray shoppers fighting over new Air Jordans


by NATALIE SWABY / KING 5 News and Associated Press

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Posted on December 23, 2011 at 7:35 AM

Updated Friday, Dec 23 at 7:56 PM

SEATTLE -- Police used pepper spray to break up fights among shoe buyers who pushed and shoved outside the Westfield Southcenter mall to pick up some of the first Nike retro Air Jordans that went on sale early Friday morning.
Police said more than 1,000 people lined up outside the mall, located just south of Seattle. Shoppers said the shoes were supposed to go on sale at 4 a.m. and people could start lining up at 2 a.m., but some people arrived earlier than they were supposed to. Police were called in to control disputes that broke out over line-cutting or pushing.

Shoppers described the scene as chaotic and at times dangerous.

"They just moved everyone to one single line, so they are pretty upset," said Charles Wilby, shopper. "Everyone is fighting over the shoes, arguing and stuff."

Arguments escalated and shoppers reported screaming, yelling and pushing. Police said at one point, the force of the crowd bent a door off its hinges and some people managed to run inside the mall.

A fight broke out among some of the shoppers and police used pepper spray to break up the fight.

"Everybody was trying to stop the fight, and they just started spraying," said one shopper.

"It was just crazy, with people and commotion, all the police showing up and pepper spraying," said Tawnni Merlino, who was in the crowd.

Tukwila Police Officer Mike Murphy said about 20 people were sprayed in a group. One man was arrested for assault after police say he pushed an officer. No one was injured.

"It was verging on a riot. We were on the verge of losing control of the crowd," said Murphy. "Once police got here, we had to use some pepper spray on some people who were fighting. But without police intervention, it would have easily turned into a riot."

Police report within the crowd, there was evidence of alcohol and marijuana.

Carlisa Williams said she came out for the experience of it and spent $328 on two pairs of shoes. But she said after this experience, she will never do anything like this again.

"I don't understand why they're so important to people," said Williams. "They're just shoes at the end of the day. It's not worth risking your life over."
One buyer walking away with the shoes said it's a classic style that sells for $180 a pair retail, but on the Internet can fetch up to $400.

By 6 a.m. the stores sold out of the shoes and all but about 50 people got their Air Jordans, said Murphy.

The mall initially contacted police saying they needed two officers to monitor the crowd. In the end, about 25 officers from Tukwila, Renton, Kent, Seattle and King County responded. Murphy said they smelled marijuana and found alcohol containers at the scene.

Hundreds of customers also lined up for hours outside stores in downtown Seattle Nike store and a mall in Federal Way. No disputes were reported at either location.

Elsewhere, shoppers lined up in droves outside stores in several cities around the country for the Nike retro Air Jordans.

In Georgia, at least four people were arrested in a mad dash by customers hoping to purchase the the new Nike Air Jordans at a suburban Atlanta shopping mall.

DeKalb County police said up to 20 squad cars responded to a mall in Lithonia. They said a large crowd broke down a door to get inside before a store opened. Police say they escorted most of the people back outside, but took four into custody.

In Taylor, Mich., police said about 100 people forced their way into a shopping center around 5:30 a.m., damaging decorations and overturning benches. A 21-year-old man was arrested.

Nike released this statement:

"We are extremely concerned to hear of the reported crowd incidents around the launch of the Air Jordan XI at some select retail locations. Consumer safety and security is of paramount importance. We encourage anyone wishing to purchase our product to do so in a respectful and safe manner."