‘Friendly Skies’ Look Much Like America’s Police State

Sadly, what happened to an Asian doctor on a United commercial jetliner has fast become the norm in the United States, where local, state, and federal law enforcement regularly side with the government and corporations and routinely abuse citizens.

By Sophia Meyer

Dr. David Dao was seated on United Flight 3411 Sunday night, prepared to fly from Chicago to Louisville on the last leg of an exhausting 24-hour journey. He was going back to work, with patients to see the next morning at 8.

When notified he was had been computer-selected to give his seat to a United employee needing to get to work in Louisville, Dao refused. After United employees were unsuccessful in convincing him to disembark, three Chicago Aviation Department security officers boarded the plane to remove Dao—willingly or not.

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In a passenger’s video recording of the incident, Dao can be heard telling the officers: “I’m not going. I’m a physician. I have to work tomorrow at 8.” An officer threatens, “We’ll have to drag you off,” to which Dao responds, “Well then you can drag me. . . . I’m not going. I’m staying right here,” and then says, “I’d rather go to jail.”

Then, in what The Atlantic calls, “the ‘re-accommodation’ heard ’round the world,” the screaming Dao “was ripped out of his seat by uniformed officers and dragged down the aisle on his back like carry-on luggage, as several horrified passengers captured video footage of his bloodied face on their phones.”

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Passengers can be heard expressing disbelief and disgust as he’s dragged away. “Hey, hey, hey, come on! Now you’ve busted his lip.” “Oh, my God! Look what you did to him! This is horrible!” And, sarcastically, “Good work. Way to go.”

The officers have been “placed on indefinite leave,” according to the Chicago Department of Aviation, which acknowledged the situation was not handled “in accordance with our standard operating procedure.”

It required three attempts for United CEO Oscar Munoz to apologize to Dao, his family, and the other passengers for the police-state tactics used aboard his plane. Finally—three days and three attempts later, and only after United stock had lost $255 million—Munoz told ABC News on Wednesday, “probably the word shame comes to mind,” in describing how he felt upon watching the video showing the handcuffed passenger being literally dragged off his plane. “It was a system failure,” he continued, blaming United’s policies, that do not enable employees to use “common sense.”

Munoz had initially outraged the public when he tweeted, “We apologize for the overbook situation,” and then in a statement blamed the victim: Dao, he said, had “raised his voice and refused to comply with crew member instructions” and “became more and more disruptive and belligerent.”

Now, similar to what often follows such police-state violence, USA Today reports “Videos from United Airlines flight incident may violate rules. . . . [P] assengers were in violation of United’s policies and could face legal repercussions in civil court or be barred from future United flights.”

If this series of events sounds familiar, perhaps it’s because time and again, innocent victims of police-state violence in America—like the young man shot to death in his own apartment while playing video games at 1:30 a.m. when police came searching for someone else, as reported by AFP in Issue 15 & 16, 2017—have their reputations smeared by the agencies and media, are themselves blamed for agency misconduct, and onlookers who document the carnage are themselves threatened and even arrested.

China’s version of Twitter, Sina Weibo, has been abuzz with the news, since Dao is of Asian descent. Ironically, one commenter noted United’s treatment of him is “a perfect illustration” of human rights in the United States.

Indeed, whether on land or in the sky, and whether such violent tactics are carried out by representatives of local law enforcement, federal agencies like the DEA, ICE or IRS, or remote drone controllers targeting unarmed American citizens for murder, the onus is focused on those who document such police-state tactics rather than on the criminals carrying them out.

In addition to a growing “Boycott United” sentiment, Dao has filed a lawsuit and the company’s stock has plummeted $1.4 billion as of this writing. Surely, one would assume, the company immediately changed its policies.

Au contraire!

A mere two days after Dao’s mistreatment, United first-class passenger Geoff Fearns was threatened with handcuffs if he did not give up his $1,000 bought-and-paid-for full-fare seat so that a last-minute, “higher-priority” traveler could have it. When Fearns stood his ground and refused to leave the plane, United finally “compromised” and moved him to a seat in economy class.

Once home, Fearns wrote Munoz requesting a full refund and a $25,000 donation from United to the charity of his choice for his mistreatment.

A week later, United’s “corporate customer care specialist” instead offered Fearns a refund of the difference between his first-class ticket price and economy fare as well as a $500 credit toward future travel on United.

When asked if he’ll ever “fly the friendly skies” again, Fearns laughed, “Are you kidding?”

Originally from the Midwest, Sophia Meyer is a freelance writer and editor and avid gardener now living on Florida’s Treasure Coast.