In the wake of the media furor over a viral video of Chicago airport security forcibly removing a passenger from a United Airlines flight, the identity of the man in question has been revealed. The United passenger is David Dao, a doctor from Kentucky whose refusal to give up his seat on an overbooked flight from Chicago to Louisville caused an uproar on social media.
As more information about Dao and his past come to light, some are using his criminal record as a justification for his violent removal from the plane. Reports about Dao's life and history include that he lost his full license in 2005 due to drug-related convictions, and that he is only currently licensed to practice medicine in an outpatient capacity once a week.
While this information does reveal more about the man himself, it is useless in discussions about whether or not Dao "deserved" to be bloodied by airport security while they removed him from the overbooked flight. It's incredibly unlikely that the airline or O'Hare staff knew of Dao's record, and even if they did, the use of unnecessary force on a passenger is unethical and potentially illegal regardless of that person's past. Unfortunately, Dao's mistreatment has become a litmus test for whether or not an individual or organization will engage in victim-blaming.
Blaming victims for their mistreatment is, unfortunately, nothing new. Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown, two young Black men killed by police whose deaths helped incite the Black Lives Matter movement, were both blamed for their deaths, and sexual assault victims often find themselves subject to questions about what they were wearing or if they were drinking when assaulted. With Dao, those comments have reached a fever pitch as journalists get in on the victim-blaming as part of their scoops on the developing story.
On a human interest level, Dao's criminal history may be interesting or even elicit sympathy. He's a man who has dealt with so much, who was then subject to public humiliation not just on Flight 3411, but again in the millions of shares and comments the video of his mistreatment garnered. But as part of the story about his in-flight abuse, which includes a very disturbing video of the incident and two public responses from United's CEO that appeared to blame him for his forcible removal, it couldn't matter less. It speaks to our culture's willingness to blame victims rather than perpetrators of violence, and that may be the most disturbing part of the entire fiasco.