On the Post-Hoc Shaming of Dr. David Dao

On the evening of April 9, United Airlines enlisted personnel of the Chicago Police Department to forcibly remove a passenger named David Dao from a flight to Louisville. The plane was at Chicago O’Hare. Dao was already sitting in his paid seat, when United determined that it needed to free up four seats so that members of its own staff could get to Louisville and be in position for a flight that was to depart the next day.

Three of the four passengers chosen for involuntary removal consented — most likely while grumbling, although United did compensate them for the inconvenience. Dao, a physician in Kentucky, refused to leave. He needed to be at work the following morning, and none of the alternate options United offered would have made this possible. The tension ratcheted up, and — as shown in a horrific video that quickly went “viral” — three Chicago police officers eventually yanked Dao from his seat and dragged him down the aisle. Dao was in the hospital for several days as a result, and is likely to sue United soon.

Much has been written about this episode: about the horribly inadequate initial responses offered by United’s CEO; about the racial dynamics of hauling an Asian man down the aisle; about the inherent ickiness of overbooking flights and then needing to “bump” people from them.

Today I’m focusing on another reaction to the event — the attempt to shame Dr. Dao by unearthing embarrassing episodes from his past. In 2004 he admitted to a scheme of trading painkillers for sex, which required him to operate under close supervision for several years. This fact was known in his Kentucky community but not on a more widespread basis until after the United incident. This is a sordid episode, of course, but it has no relevance at all to what happened at Chicago O’Hare on April 9.

At the time of this incident, all anyone would have known is that Dr. Dao refused to leave his seat. His history was not even known to anyone involved in the incident. And even if it had been, a forced and inhumane removal from the plane was not the appropriate response. All efforts to engage in post-hoc shaming of Dr. Dao, as a way to justify United’s actions, are themselves shameful and disgusting.

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