SEATTLE — Local leaders met with representatives from the South Asian community in Seattle on Saturday to discuss the death of 23-year-old Jaahnavi Kandula, who was struck and killed by a Seattle Police Department (SPD) officer in January.
The meeting was held days after the controversial comments of another Seattle officer about Kandula’s death, recorded on body camera footage, were made public. The comments sparked immediate outrage, many calling for disciplinary action against the involved officer and expressing their disapproval.
“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,” said Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell in a news release. “The City and SPD owe it to our residents and neighbors – especially communities of color, immigrants, those who haven’t always had a seat at the table – not just to promise them they are valued and welcome, but to prove it, day in and day out through our actions and services.”
The Saturday, Sept. 16, meeting included Harrell, Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold, Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz and State Representative Vandana Slatter who met with regional leaders and community members from 15 local organizations.
“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 Rep. 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.”
While Harrell acknowledged the “rightful outrage” the officer’s comments are receiving, attendees of the meeting shared their concerns and calls for accountability. On Friday, the Seattle Police Officers Guild shared a statement noting the officer’s comments were only one side of the conversation and that they were shared without proper context.
Lalita Uppala, the executive director for the Indian American Community Services, said the organization wants to ensure the involved officers are held accountable both in the investigation of her death and the comments made afterward.
“We want justice for Jaahnavi and demand that the SPD officers show respect for the lives and dignity of all marginalized communities particularly the Black, Indigenous, Latino, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, Muslim, Asian and all people of color, the LGBTQ+, the unhoused, those with challenges in behavioral health, special needs and disabilities," Uppala said. "In order to heal and move forward collectively it is critical that there is full transparency as well as active engagement with the community in the accountability process.”
Srini Abburi, a representative of the Telugu Association of North America (TANA), attended the meeting and was also involved with Kandula’s family in January.
Abburi said the mayor and SPD apologized at the meeting. Attendees asked what sort of empathy or sympathy training officers undergo, especially when it comes to fatal incidents.
“I know working as a police officer is a very tough and a hard job, but what type of training do the officers get?” Abburi asked. “We get training in our jobs, are officers getting similar training?”
After the meeting, both Mayor Harrell and Chief Diaz issued apologies, recorded on video, to the Kandula family and the community.
Supporters rally for Jaahnavi Kandula
A large group of around 100 Indian and South Asian community members gathered and marched Saturday evening with a call for justice.
“She is just a kid. It triggered us in so many ways,” said Deepali Jamal, owner of Live 2 Dance and who helped organize the rally.
The community had a clear message on Sept. 16 that they would not back down until change and accountability has been made.
“None of that makes any changes and it's still horrific and disgusting and I can't believe somebody with the lowest level of humanity is in law enforcement," Jamal said, adding that the officer's laughter in the body camera video is "haunting."
“Indians don't try to ruffle any feathers, we keep to ourselves we don't fight our battles," she said. "But it is high time we fight our own battles and we are done being invisible."
Facts of the fatal collision, officer's comments
Kandula, who was from India, was a graduate student studying in Seattle. She was walking through a crosswalk and was hit by an officer going 63 miles per hour in a 25 mile-per-hour zone on Jan. 23.
On Sept. 11, comments made by Officer Dan Auderer, who is vice president of the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG), became public. Auderer was captured on body camera video saying, "but she is dead" and laughing while on the phone with Solan.
"Yeah, just write a check. $11,000. She was 26 anyway. She had limited value,” Auderer said in the video, incorrectly stating Kandula's age.
In a letter, Auderer wrote that he was speaking sarcastically to SPOG President Mike Solan about the way lawyers negotiate the value of human life in incidents like Kandula's death.
At the time, Auderer was on his way to perform a field sobriety test on the officer who struck and killed Kandula. The officer who hit and killed Kandula has not been criminally charged.
An Office of Police Accountability (OPA) investigation is ongoing.