Protest rally in Seattle over death of Indian student

Seattle: Demanding justice for Jaahnavi Kandula, members of the South Asian community here met the Mayor of Seattle and top city officials and also held a rally at the site where the Indian student was struck and killed by a speeding police patrol car.

Ms Kandula, 23, was hit by a police vehicle driven by Officer Kevin Dave when she was crossing a street on January 23. He was driving at 74 mph (more than 119 kmh) on the way to a report of a drug overdose call. 

In bodycam footage released on Monday by the Seattle Police Department, Officer Daniel Auderer laughed about the deadly crash and dismissed any implication Dave might be at fault or that a criminal investigation was necessary. 

Auderer can be heard making insensitive comments like she had “limited value” and laughing following the fatal crash. 

On Saturday, the leaders and organizations representing the South Asian community in Seattle met Mayor Bruce Harrell, Police Chief Adrian Diaz and other city leaders. 

“Effective public safety is built on trust between City government and the communities we serve. When that trust is breached, it is the City’s obligation to do the work necessary to restore and rebuild it,” Mayor Harrell was quoted as saying by Komo TV. 

Statements by Mayor Harrell to date, that the offensive remarks represent an isolated incident, don’t go far enough to deal with the system and police culture, community leaders said. 

Harrell further said “We want to express our extreme condolences for your loss. Many comments that have been made do not reflect the sympathy and the empathy and the condolences that we have.” 

“I’m standing with our Chief of Police, Adrian Diaz and again with the Indian…the who’s who in the Indian community in the greater region, all coming together because of unfortunate and insensitive remarks that we believe were made. Making sure that our apologies as a city official are felt to your community and your family.” 

Diaz further added that,”…I know that I talked to the brother and some of the other family. But we’re here to continue to listen, because we’re here. We want to stand with you. We want to figure out ways that you also feel in a situation. We want to work to ensure that that we value our human life that we do not dehumanize others.” 

More than 100 members of the Seattle area’s South Asian community also gathered at Denny Park on Saturday and made their way to the intersection where Ms Kandula was hit by the speeding police vehicle. 

They held signs saying “Jaahnavi had more value than Seattle Police Department” and “Justice for Jaahnavi, jail killer cops.” The rally was organized by UTSAV, an organization that helps connect South Asians with their communities. 

“The South Asian community and I grieve for Jaahnavi and are in shock over the lack of empathy and deeply offensive remarks regarding a young woman’s life and potential,” said State Representative Vandana Slatter. 

“Jaahnavi is a part of our community, and her story is reflected in every one of us. It is time for swift and accountable action, not apathy, so that Jaahnavi’s family can have justice and the community can begin the long journey to rebuilding trust,” she said. 

“We’re not a monolith, the Indian community,” Slatter said to the crowd.  

“There’s diaspora in the community, but we are all united today,” she said. 

On Saturday, rally attendees pointed out that Ms Kandula’s life did have value. 

Shifali Jamwal, who brought her 3-year-old son, said Ms Kandula was a master’s student and moved to America for her education so “her life would have more value.” “I can only imagine what Jaahnavi’s mom is going through,” Ms Jamwal said. 

Another attendee, Kyla Carrillo, 25, called Auderer’s comments “completely disrespectful. 

“Not even unbelievable, not shocking, but just for [him] to value somebody’s life as such was disrespectful,” she said. 

Between lanes at the intersection, marchers lit tea lights spelling out “Jaahnavi” and laid bouquets underneath a sign. 

Ms Kandula was set to graduate this coming December with a master’s degree in information systems from the Seattle campus of Northeastern University. Her family said she was working toward supporting her mother in India. 

Saddened by Ms Kandula’s death, Kenneth W. Henderson, Chancellor of Northeastern University in a statement issued on the varsity’s official Facebook page on Friday said that.” Her loss will be felt deeply by students, staff, and faculty. The university plans to award Jaahnavi her degree posthumously and present it to her family. 

Arun Sharma, founder of UTSAV, said the organization plans to escalate action if the Police Department doesn’t take action against Auderer and Dave. 

“Let’s not wait for another major incident like this to wake us up,” Sharma said. “Immigrants die by a thousand cuts.” Before dispersing, protesters chanted “Who had unlimited value? Jaahnavi Kandula. Say her name. Jaahnavi Kandula.” An Office of Police Accountability investigation related to the controversial comments is ongoing. 

India has taken up Ms Kandula’s case with the US government as well as with local officials in Washington state. 

“Recent reports including in the media of the handling of Ms Jaahnavi Kandula’s death in a road accident in Seattle in January are deeply troubling,” the Consulate General of India in San Francisco tweeted on Wednesday. (PTI)  

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