The Internet was flooded this week with the screams of Dr. David Dao, the Kentucky doctor who was dragged off an overbooked United Airlines flight by airline police.
Public outrage led to a painful drop in United Airlines shares, with a $250 million loss in the company’s market value. United Airlines agreed that the treatment was excessive and “unsettling,” yet the media still released details of the doctor’s past drug charges.
Does His Criminal Past Matter?
Did the police who dragged Dr. Dao off the plane know his criminal past prior to the incident? Was he removed for drug possession? No.
So, what is the relevance of his past, crime-ridden or not?
Dr. Dao is an American of Vietnamese descent, but the answer is a media tactic with which the Black community is all too familiar: criminalize the victim to exonerate the police.
Count on the Media to Dig Up the Dirt
Media outlets are notorious for publishing criminal records of Black victims involved in a news story.
An infamous case was Harambe, a Cincinnati zoo gorilla who was killed by zookeepers after a 3-year old boy fell into the exhibit.
While there was public disagreement the incident’s handling, the media released the boy’s father’s criminal record, even though the father, a Black male, was not at the zoo during the incident.
Even more common, past records for police murder victims, like Mike Brown and Philando Castile, are released for public scrutiny. We must consider why a white-dominated society would blame Black victims for incidents or crimes committed against them.
- Criminalize Black People Even More
Media plays a huge role in painting Black people as “thugs and criminals.” It is a sentiment promoted in this country along with terms like “Black-on-Black crime.” While white people also commit crimes, white men are more likely to commit a mass shooting, and a white woman is more likely to be raped by a white man she knows, the media never says “White-on-white” crime, now do they?
- Decrease Sympathy
White people are the majority, and public opinion is influential. By showing a Black victim in a negative light, this decreases the sympathy a white person will have for the victim, and if the public doesn’t feel bad for the victim, then this sympathy typically moves toward the abuser, the police.
- Deflect Blame onto Victims
By digging up a victim’s criminal record, the media is insinuating that the victim somehow deserves the mistreatment, as if past actions vindicate police brutality.
If a white woman was arrested for shoplifting in 2003, and ends up in the hospital with a black eye and broken ribs from a police officer in 2017, does she deserve it, and would the media care to report her record?
Victim blaming is problem throughout American society, but it unfortunately, affects Black people and minorities in cases of police brutality every day.