Protests against the treatment of Dr. David Dao, at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, on April 11. Photo: Reuters / Kamil Krzaczynski
Protests against the treatment of Dr. David Dao, at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, on April 11. Photo: Reuters / Kamil Krzaczynski

The forced removal of an Asian American passenger from a United Airlines flight has prompted a Chinese American civic organization to issue a statement expressing its outrage over the incident.

The disturbing cellphone images of David Dao, a Vietnam-born medical doctor of Chinese ancestry being dragged from the plane in Chicago on April 9 after refusing to be “bumped” from an overbooked flight, stirred a global firestorm on social media that included China and other Asian countries.

Dao’s attorney says his client suffered a “significant” concussion, a broken nose and lost two front teeth after three airport security officers dragged him from the plane.

“Without ascribing racial motivations to the incident, for many Chinese Americans, including immigrants, as well as Chinese persons everywhere, this situation has touched a raw and painful nerve,” said the statement from the Committee of 100. “In a matter of days, the topic garnered more than 880 million views on Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter. As a Chinese American organization, C100 encourages greater understanding of Chinese perceptions underlying this phenomenon.”

“The scene of an Asian man being subjected to such physical force evokes in many Chinese a visceral reaction and prompts painful memories in Chinese and Chinese American history. Chinese people had to endure being bullied and oppressed for many years … For many years, Chinese and Asian Americans have been stereotyped as polite and passive. The current worldwide outrage suggests that Chinese peoples have found their voice, and they are standing up to protest mistreatment,” the statement read in part.

It continued: “Corporations, governments, businesses, and public institutions now operate in a world of global stakeholders. We would all do well to recognize the diversity of experiences of those we serve. Building bridges and mutual trust through cultural sensitivity, respect, and dialogue is more than a charitable ideal; it is a business, societal, and global imperative.”

“We worked very hard to receive input from many people with a range of views,” Committee of 100 Chairman Frank Wu said of the group’s statement on the United incident. “This incident was seen very differently depending on personal perspective. It is crucial to explain what happened in the context of Chinese social media and Asian American history. Our goal is always to build bridges, find common ground, decrease rather than increase anger and tension, and contribute to an ongoing process of understanding.”

The Committee of 100 is a leadership organization representing prominent Chinese Americans in the US.

Case under investigation

The incident is being probed by US authorities. It sparked widespread criticism by airline passengers across the US and yanked down the United’s share price.

Oscar Munoz, the CEO of United’s parent company, told the nationally televised “Good Morning America” TV show on Wednesday that he was “ashamed” and “embarrassed” after viewing video clips of the incident.

“This can never, will never happen again on a United Airlines flight. That’s my premise, and that’s my promise,” Munoz said.

Munoz initially blamed the incident on a “disruptive and belligerent” passenger in an email to United employees.

The incident on a Sunday flight from Chicago O’Hare International Airport to Louisville, Kentucky arose after the airline (it claims) randomly selected four passengers to leave the plane to make room for four United employees traveling to Louisville. Three passengers agreed to disembark after being offered compensation. But Dao refused, saying he was a doctor who needed to see his patients in Louisville the following morning.

Doug Tsuruoka is Asia Times’ Editor-at-Large

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