After a doctor was dragged off a United Airlines plane by police for refusing to give up his seat, journalists had a slew of questions. Why are the police arbitrating simple disputes between companies and consumers by using physical force? Why didn't United simply offer passengers more money to give up seats?
The Kentucky-based Courier-Journal had a different question: What's up with this doctor? The paper dug in hard, looking at his licensing history, his formal patients and even some decade-old drug charges. This doctor? He had a "troubled past," the Courier-Journal concluded.
This is a common device used after police and other perpetrators are criticized for excessive use of force, especially when it comes to people of color: to examine erroneous elements of the victim's history in order to suggest to the public that they were deserving of their treatment. Think Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and plenty of others.
But while we're on the subject of past records, let's take a closer look at the ones dragging the 69-year-old man down the aisle: the Chicago Police Department.
After the killing of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, the U.S. Department of Justice launched an investigation into potential abuses within Chicago's police force. In January, the DOJ concluded that the Chicago Police Department was rife with rampant abuses stemming from a negligence of leadership and a poverty of accountability.
After the federal investigation, the city and the DOJ agreed to negotiations in order to reform the department's transparency, use of force, data collection and officer wellness programs. The Justice Department's report also included a passage where local kids claimed officers would use racial slurs when speaking to them:
Black youth told us that they are routinely called "nigger," "animal," or "pieces of shit" by CPD officers. A 19-year-old black male reported that CPD officers called him a "monkey." Such statements were confirmed by CPD officers. One officer we interviewed told us that he personally has heard co-workers and supervisors refer to black individuals as monkeys, animals, savages, and "pieces of shit."
In 2016, Chicago settled a lawsuit against whistleblowers within the department who uncovered a criminal gang of officers running a protection racket within the department.
And why stop with the Chicago PD? United is no angel, either, as one Washington Post reporter pointed out:
Naturally, when employees of a corporation call the police in to violently remove airline passengers at random, the CEO might issue an apology. Instead, United CEO Oscar Munoz sent out a companywide email calling David Dao "disruptive and belligerent."
Apparently, there are no angels among any of them: an armed police force, an international corporation and a 69-year-old man trying to get home to his patients. Who among them deserves more blame for Monday's incident than any other?
We may never know.