Whenever instances of abuse or violence occur and are widely spread over social media, a lot of information will often appear about the backgrounds of victims and perpetrators. Some believe that a person’s history may have something to do with what happened, as if this history excuses or explains it in some way. However, I disagree with this approach. I believe that a victim’s history is irrelevant when discussing their abuse and that incidents should be considered solely in the context in which they occurred.
A United Airlines flight on Sunday, April 9, scheduled to fly from Chicago to Louisville, was overbooked. The airline asked four passengers to give up their seats for crew members who were needed in Louisville the next day. United claims that it chose the passengers that were to debark based on criteria that included frequent-flier status, check-in time and fare type, among others. For their cooperation, the airlines offered monetary compensation. Three of the chosen passengers left quietly. The fourth, Dr. David Dao, 69, refused to leave. He is a physician who needed to see patients the next day in Louisville. He was then forcibly wrestled from his seat by Chicago aviation authorities and dragged by his arms down the aisle of the plane. Multiple videos surfaced online of Dao being pulled down the aisle, face bloodied. His lawyer later explained that Dao suffered a broken nose, a concussion and two knocked-out teeth.
Since then, United Airlines has faced enormous backlash about their violent and inappropriate tactics. Many have seen it as an example of airline greed, showcasing how far these companies will go to sell their seats. United CEO Oscar Munoz at first blamed Dao for what happened, claiming that the passenger had been belligerent and uncooperative. He has since apologized and says that United is working on addressing the incident.
Dao received an outpouring of support from people who had seen the video. In recent days, however, more information has surfaced about him. Specifically, there are accusations circulating that he has a criminal record. He was apparently convicted in 2005 on six counts of obtaining drugs by fraud and deceit and was also convicted for writing prescriptions for a male patient in exchange for sexual favors. The Kentucky state medical licensing board issued a suspension that was lifted in 2015, and Dao is currently under severe restrictions while he practices internal medicine.
Learning about Dao’s background introduces the question of whether or not a victim’s past should come into play when assessing the situation. But a victim’s personality should be separated from their victimization.
I believe that it is important to separate a victim’s past from their abuse. Whatever their history may be, no person should be violently dragged from an airplane for refusing to give up their seat, and especially should not suffer a concussion and other injuries along the way. Past wrongdoings do not excuse immediate abuse.
This discussion is similar to one that emerged after Trayvon Martin was fatally shot by George Zimmerman in February 2012. When he was killed, Martin was walking home from the drugstore and was carrying Skittles and Arizona Watermelon Fruit Juice Cocktail, which, when combined with dextromethorphan (DXM) cough syrup, create ‘lean,’ a substance that can cause psychosis and aggression.
Some saw Martin’s purchases as an excuse for his murder, especially when his autopsy revealed that his liver showed damage consistent with DXM abuse. Some said he deserved it, emphasizing that he had been suspended from school three times in the month before he was killed. Others shrugged it off as just something unfortunate that happened. For them, Martin’s alleged drug use excused, or at least explained, his murder.
Trayvon Martin’s drug use was not a reason or an excuse for his murder. He was just a 17-year-old kid walking home. A similar situation arises with Dao. While his criminal past is unsettling, it does not justify or explain what happened on the United flight.
It may be true that Dao was belligerent on the flight. Another passenger reports that when Dao was first asked to leave, he shouted at the flight attendants that he was being singled out because he was Chinese. However, his aggression does not warrant a broken nose and other injuries. Any person in that situation may have done the same thing. Voicing your rights does not merit physical abuse.
A victim’s history is especially irrelevant because the perpetrators did not know about their history at the time of the abuse. The Chicago aviation authorities had no way of knowing about Dao’s criminal record; they simply acted violently towards an innocent passenger. Since his background was not known at the time, it was irrelevant at that point and is thus irrelevant now.
When discussing these incidents, or those that are similar, it is crucial to keep them solely in the context of the abuse that occurred. What matters is that a 69-year-old man was violently dragged from a United Airlines flight and sustained multiple injuries, not that he had a criminal past. If we continue to expand upon these events so that they include years of backstory, the abuse itself is overshadowed and taken out of context. Keeping the circumstances of these events in mind allows us to address the abuse or injustices that occurred without excusing unwarranted violence.