Brown Lives Matter

By Basab Dasgupta

 

The most disruptive and divisive series of events that I have seen during my life in the US was what happened after George Floyd’s death while in police custody in Minnesota in 2020.

Widespread protests and violence, destruction of businesses, surge of Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, attack on police officers, call to defund the police which in turn led to an increase in criminal activities in big cities, burning of American flags – all continued for months. It turned the clock back decades as far as the racial harmony between blacks and whites is concerned.

I must confess that I failed to be too sympathetic towards this movement. I strongly felt that the need for law enforcement is one of our topmost priorities and statistically speaking, there would be more black arrests because crimes are rampant in predominantly black neighborhoods. I thought that the police officer Derek Chauvin was doing his job in his effort to subdue George Floyd – a known criminal with a long rap sheet. Yes, he might have used excessive force but that was understandable, given the situation. Even black conservative commentators like Candace Owens were critical of all the anti-establishment activities.

My views changed almost overnight last week when I heard the news of a 23-year-old graduate student, Jaahnavi Kandula of Indian origin, run over by a police car in Seattle while crossing the street. The accident happened on January 23, 2023, but the video from the body-cam of a police officer was just released. The car was being driven by Kevin Dave who was on an emergency call and driving at 74 mph in a zone with 25 mph speed limit. There was a photograph of the girl – so cute, so innocent, so full of optimism for a bright future; she was going to graduate in December. Tears came to my eyes thinking of my own daughter at that age and the heartbreak of the girl’s parents.

It was shocking and horrific, but such tragic accidents do happen every day in America, and I could shrug it off as another act of God that I would never understand. However, the worst part was the comments of one of the police officers. It was reported that a police officer Daniel Auderer, who happens to be the vice president of the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild laughed at the incident and made comments like “It’s a regular person”, “there is not much value to her life”, “just write a check for $11000” during a call to Mike Solan, the president of the guild. This was all caught on the body cam video.

I could not believe what I was reading and went to YouTube to see if the video had been posted. Sure enough, I found multiple clips each containing the comments and laughter. It was not some mumbling and giggling; comments were loud and clear. The chilling part was the laughter. It was evil, it was as if Satan himself was laughing. It was sickening.

Equally shocking was what happened after the incident was brought to the attention of superiors. Daniel reportedly confessed to making those comments but explained away his reaction by claiming that he was laughing not at the dead girl but at how the lawyers would now jump into action arguing about “value of life”. Nothing happened to the officers, not even a suspension for a few days.

The decision was that there was no need to hold Kevin guilty or initiate a criminal investigation. Despite a suspicion that Kevin was under the influence of drugs Daniel vindicated him by lying on his behalf that he was traveling at 50 mph, a manageable speed for a trained driver, and he was not impaired – the so-called “blue wall of silence”.

Daniel was obviously stupid to minimize the value of this girl’s life. I am sure that he did not know that the current president of India is a woman in a country which also elected a woman prime minister in the largest democratic country almost 60 years ago. He does not know that some of the most important positions in the world today are held by Indian women such as the Assistant Director General of WHO and chief economist of IMF. He probably did not know how to distinguish a woman of Indian origin from other women of color. He could not have any appreciation for a young woman coming here for higher studies leaving her family behind so that she could get a good job and help her family live a better life.

This is perhaps not surprising. Who wants to be a policeman? Clearly, he must be physically fit and strong. He cannot be well-educated because then he would have chosen a different profession. Who else would want to risk their life every day? 

 

He must be a bully because his job is to track down criminals. He is a racist because he has seen in his job that there are more people of color who are arrested for suspicion of a crime. He probably grew up in an equally uneducated and unsophisticated family environment. We probably only get people like him to join the force.

The police men in this country supposedly go through regular sensitivity training on race related issues and how to be objective. Clearly expense for such training is being wasted in Seattle.

I immediately thought of the BLM movement. Suddenly, I understood the rage and frustration of all the African American people joining the movement. I can now believe that the black folks are indeed stopped in much larger proportion than their white counterparts for minor offenses. I now believe that police have a very low assessment of their lives. I now believe in stories of police abuse and brutality.

I do not know how the Indian government, or the Indian American community will react to this incident. I read headlines like “Biden Administration has promised a swift action” and numerous comments expressing outrage and disgust below every YouTube post. Some are demanding “accountability”, but what does it mean? Should the police officer be fired? Should he be tried in a court of law like Derek?

Should the police union be dismantled? Indians are peaceful people; they are not going to protest at the state capitol or burn police cars. I suspect that nothing will happen to Kevin or Daniel and the incident will gradually be forgotten.

Today, I just write to release my anger and to see if, “A pen is mightier than a sword”.

Basab Dasgupta has a doctorate in physics from University of Wisconsin and worked with Sony as Vice President of an operating division. Retired, he now lives in San Clemente, CA.

 

Disclaimer: The views expressed are not necessarily those of The South Asian Times 

Images courtesy of The Mint and Provided

Share this post