The Victim Blaming Continues In United Airlines Saga

This week, many people were left in shock after viewing the troubling video of 69-year-old Dr. David Dao being dragged from his seat on overbooked United Airlines flight from Chicago to Louisville. Amid the public relations nightmare for the airline, another story has been emerging ― that the doctor is a convicted felon. Dr. Dao was involved in issuing fraudulent prescriptions, possibly as part of a destructive romantic relationship. He was convicted in 2005, having lost his license to practice medicine when he was first indicted in 2003. After a long battle, probation, and paying his debt to society, he received his medical license again in 2015.

Knowing the background actually does explain why he was so reluctant to get off the plane. It was reported that Dr. Dao stated he had patients who he needed to attend to in the morning, which is why he refused to relinquish his seat. Dr. Dao was probably was thinking “I am certainly not missing my appointments so soon after getting my license back”.

But why is his past relevant? Why do we care? This is another in the latest trend of victim blaming. It appears to be a way of deflecting responsibility away from United and the police officers that pulled him off the plane. Why is the victim somehow responsible for what ill befalls him or her?

As a former prosecutor, one thing is for sure: you take your victims and witnesses as you find them. There are very few “Mary Poppins” victims who have never encountered law enforcement, or never made a mistake. Where do we draw the line? If someone shoplifted as a juvenile, does that mean they’re entitled to be beaten and robbed later on in life? There’s always the old argument that a prostitute could never be raped, which most people now have accepted as rightfully false.

But in this instance, mainstream media outlets are reporting on his criminal history as if in some way that makes him complicit in it being pulled off the plane. The bottom line is this: United Airlines should have resolved the overbooking issue before the passengers boarded the plane. Once you’ve sat down, put your luggage away, and put on your seat belt, the only reason you should be pulled out of that seat is if you are being disruptive, engaging in criminal activity, or in some way causing harm to others. Obviously, the Dr. Dao’s only crime was being unlucky enough to be one of the four people selected at random to be pulled off the plane.

The trend of victim blaming is very disturbing. We see it many times in instances of police shootings as a justification ― almost as if “well this person was a bad person so therefore the shooting was justified”. Keep in mind that at the time of an initial encounter, police officers rarely know someone’s prior criminal history. The officers that encountered Dr. Dao on the plane had no way of knowing about his conviction.

We as a society need to curb this hunger for someone’s past at the detriment of their victimization. Dr. Dao was a victim of inappropriate procedures on United Airlines, and has a very solid lawsuit on the grounds of excessive force, infliction of emotional distress, and possibly breach of contract. The case will almost certainly settle out of court; United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz has indicated that he was reaching out to Dr. Dao to “make things right”. Dr. Dao remains hospitalized as a result of this incident.

Regardless of the final outcome, the blame needs to rest solidly on the shoulders of United, and the officers that used excessive force, leaving Dr. Dao beaten and bloody. 

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