By this point, we have all heard what happened on United Airlines Flight 3411 from Chicago to Louisville on Sunday, April 9. We know that United had a full plane of 70 people and realized last-minute that it needed to send four of its employees to Louisville. We know that United asked for volunteers and said the plane wouldn’t leave the airport until those four seats were vacated.
From there, United started offering money, a hotel stay and a booking on a similar flight the next day. After passengers were offered $400 and $800 to vacate their seats and still didn’t volunteer, United decided to randomly select passengers. The first couple asked to leave gave up their seats. The next person, Dr. David Dao, did not want to give up his seat because he had patients to see the next day. Minutes later he was dragged off the plane by law enforcement officers, but not before they slammed his head into an armrest, leading to a bloody injury.
That encompasses everything that we do know about the “incident” as it happened according to eyewitness accounts. Since the “incident,” we have also learned some other things. According to a statement from United Airlines, the incident occurred because Dao refused to “voluntarily” leave the plane. We also go to learn some cool facts about Dao after his name become public. According to crazy fringe media organizations like the Daily Mail, we learned that Dao had some criminal issues in the past.
But at the end of the day neither of those two things should matter because we all know what really happened. An Asian man was violently attacked by law enforcement and somehow United Airlines thinks that’s okay. Sure, they’ve since released a real statement of apology but immediately following the incident it seemed like everything that went wrong was because Dao did not want to leave his seat. Oh I’m sorry, Dao did not “voluntarily” leave his seat. Does United Airlines even know what voluntarily means? I looked it up for them and it apparently means “of one's own free will.” So United Airlines is right, Dao refused to voluntarily give up his seat that he paid for so it was okay to rip him from it.
Both United Airlines’ initial response and the “news story” written by the Daily Mail remind me of the character assassinations we’ve seen multiple times after people of color are attacked and, many times, killed by law enforcement. After Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, he was painted as a violent criminal. News reporters went as far as to call him a thug. A boy was dead in the street and supposed journalists were calling him a thug. Dao was violently dragged off of a flight that he had paid for and been allowed to board and for some reason his past is somehow relevant. The idea that his medical license was suspended in the past is somehow a justification for him being pulled off a plane is simply absurd.
The only thing that matters is Dao was dragged off of a flight even though he gave a pretty justifiable reason for why he should stay on board. If for some reason United Airlines could not find anyone else to get off of the plane, then maybe it should rethink how it sends its staff between locations.
I feel as though I write almost this exact same sentence every single week. It’s 2017, why are we still dealing with issues with race? For all those critics out there who say this has nothing to do with race, let me remind you of a simple think: When Dylann Roof was arrested, the police officer doing the job called him son and asked him to put down the gun. Tell me the last time that a person of color was treated so gently. Michael Brown found himself shot and dead on a road after being confronted by a police officer. Dao found himself ripped from his seat by a police officer, then body slammed face-first into an armrest and then dragged from a flight by his wrist. Did I mention he was arrested afterward?
American cannot and will not move forward if we cannot recognize what the problem is. So let me put it out there: America is racist. Its racism be it direct or casual, has led to the character and physical death of many innocent Americans. Now that we recognize the problem, can we start working toward fixing it?