Comedian Joe Wong, currently in China, will cross the Pacific later this week for a Friday night performance in Bloomington, Indiana.
As it turns out, Wong’s airline just so happens to be United, the carrier under fire for a video that appeared to show a law-enforcement officer dragging a bloodied, elderly man down the aisle of an overbooked plane Sunday.
The 69-year-old passenger on that Chicago-to-Louisville flight from O’Hare International Airport was identified as David Dao, a physician from Kentucky. Before Dao was named, his appearance in videos had led many in the Asian-American community to speculate that he is of Asian descent.
Wong was one of them — and he believes Dao’s race matters.
“A lot of Asian Americans, when they face injustices, they’re very reluctant to ask, is this because I’m Asian, just because they feel embarrassed or they feel that they don’t want to own this identity,” Wong told NBC News by phone from Beijing. “That to me is a serious issue.”
While cellphone video capturing the event has stoked outrage in most corners of the internet, it has also fomented anger among some Asian American and Pacific Islander elected officials and community organizations.
In response to the incident, the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) fired off two letters Tuesday: one to United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz, the other to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.
CAPAC chair U.S. Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) asked Munoz under what circumstances in United’s procedures “are violent uses of force acceptable to the airlines and aviation security personnel,” and which conditions were met to lead to Dao’s removal.
Chu also requested Chao share findings that come from a Transportation Department review of the incident, including whether federal laws or regulations were violated.
“I am deeply disturbed by the footage of a ticketed United Airlines passenger being forcibly removed from his flight," Chu said in a statement to NBC News. "As more details regarding this incident continue to emerge – including the recent revelation that the flight was not oversold – we are left with more questions than answers."
Earlier Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) tweeted a call for an investigation.
An apology from Munoz also drew criticism from New York State Assemblyman Ron Kim, a Democrat.
The incident unfolded Sunday after the airline had asked for four passengers to leave the flight to allow four crew members to fly instead. Compensation was offered, but not enough people volunteered. Dao was later among those selected by computer algorithm to give up his space, according to the crew, but he refused to deboard.
Dao said it was because he was a doctor and needed to see patients the following morning, according to eyewitnesses.
That’s when security officers of Chicago's Department of Aviation came in and yanked Dao from his seat, hitting his head on an armrest and causing it to bleed, according to Chicago police.
In a statement Monday, the Chicago Department of Aviation said the incident was "not in accordance with" standard operating procedure and said the officer's actions were "not condoned" by the department.
The officer was placed on administrative leave effective Monday pending review of the case, according to the department.
In a second apology Tuesday, Munoz said in part: “I want you to know that we take full responsibility and we will work to make it right.”
But in an internal letter seen by NBC News, Munoz also accused Dao of being "disruptive and belligerent" after being “politely asked” to leave the aircraft several times.
Dao’s attorneys released their own statement to CNBC Tuesday, saying he was being treated for his injuries. The family said it appreciated the outpouring of support for Dao, according to the statement.
"Until Dr. Dao is released from the hospital, the family is asking for privacy and will not be making any statements to the media," his attorneys said.
Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY) wrote to United Airlines Tuesday, expressing “shock” at how Dao was forcibly removed and “astonishment as to [Munoz’s] public response to the situation thus far.”
“What this passenger endured was a forcible removal, without cause, in violation of an agreed upon contract of carriage,” Meng wrote in part. “I think it reprehensible, and certainly not an example of treating customers ‘with [the] respect and dignity’ that you profess.”
OCA - Asian Pacific American Advocates (OCA), a nonprofit, also said in a statement Tuesday it was sending letters to United Airlines, the Chicago Department of Aviation, and the federal Transportation Department demanding an audit of the incident.
The group added it was calling for congressional hearings into ticket sales and the boarding process used by United and other airlines.
“This episode reflects very poorly on our country and demonstrates a lack of judgment responsible of several parties,” OCA CEO Ken Lee said in a statement.
She added, “Indeed, the optics of a bloodied elderly Asian man being forcibly removed from his seat is something we cannot ignore. Regardless of race or background, all individuals' rights and freedoms must be protected within the system.”
AAPI elected officials and community groups join a growing chorus of federal lawmakers who have asked for a probe into the incident. Some have called for new legislation to protect airline passengers’ rights.
The ranking Democrats on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and House Subcommittee on Aviation also wrote to Chao, the transportation secretary, requesting a review of the event.
Overbooking flights is relatively common practice. Federal rules require airlines to first ask for passengers to give up seats before involuntarily bumping anyone from a flight.
Amid mounting outrage, petitions decrying the incident have also been circulating online. Among them is a White House petition with the hashtag #ChineseLivesMatter calling for a federal investigation. Dao received his medical degree from Vietnam, according to records from the state of Kentucky.
The petition reached the required 100,000 signatures, with more than 183,000 people having signed it by Wednesday.
Similar ones have also appeared on the website actionnetwork.org. One entitled “Shame on you, United Airlines” had garnered more than 74,000 signatures as of Wednesday.
The news story has also made the rounds in China, piquing the interest of its citizens. Many have taken to Weibo, a popular Chinese-language social media platform, to weigh in.
“A lot of Chinese people [in China] never saw videos of police shooting black people, even from the back,” Wong said. “They didn’t see those videos. But they saw this one. And now they were like, ‘What? This is what America is like.’”
“Their idea of America is just shattered to some extent,” Wong added.
Some have called for a boycott of United Airlines, but Wong said he hadn’t because he’s “not activist enough.”
“But I wish there will be one,” he added.
Wong, who roasted former Vice President Joe Biden in 2010 at the annual Radio and Television Correspondents Association dinner in Washington D.C. to rousing applause, said it was too late to change his United flight on Thursday. He added that he would prefer taking a different airline for future trips.
As for the comedy show in Bloomington, 47-year-old Wong said he’s planning on adding something “impromptu” about the incident.
“Something to the effect that, I’m so glad I still made it here,” he said. “But I haven’t thought it through yet.”
Clarification: This story has been updated to reflect a change in an OCA statement that had misattributed a quote.