Canadians are reacting to the death of Jaahnavi Kandula after a Seattle police officer’s body cam revealed the cop laughed and made inappropriate comments about the 23-year-old student who was killed after being hit by another officer’s patrol car.
The incident happened on Jan. 23 but police released the footage last Monday as the city’s police watchdog, the Office of Police Accountability (OPA), investigate.
In the video, officer Daniel Auderer, who is also the vice president of the city’s police union, can be heard confirming Kandula’s death, laughing and saying, “Yeah, just write a check — $11,000. She had limited value.”
According to The Seattle Times, Kevin Dave, the officer who struck and killed Kandula was responding to a call about an overdose. He was driving about 120 km/h when he collided with Kandula, whose body flung over 100 feet (30 metres).
As a drug-recognition officer, Auderer was called to the scene to determine if Dave was under the influence when he crashed into Kandula. It was on a phone call with Mike Solan, the president of the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG), that Auderer can be heard making the controversial comments that some Canadians call “disgusting.”
“Who laughs and makes sick jokes after killing someone?” wrote one Twitter user.
Kandula was expecting to graduate in December with a master’s degree in information systems from the Seattle campus of Northeastern University.
She came to Seattle from Andhra Pradesh, a state in India’s southern coastal region. Relatives told The Seattle Times that Kandula was in the U.S. so she could one day support her mother back home in India.
In Canada, the news of Kandula’s death has shaken South Asian communities, including the South Asian Women’s Centre (SAWC) in Toronto.
In an email to Yahoo News Canada, Kripa Sekhar, SAWC’s executive director wrote, “Jaahnavi Kandula’s death by a policeman is a tragedy, particularly because a cop who is supposed to protect people, we believe has become a perpetrator of the crime. His disdain for Jaahnavi indicates that the lives of racialized women is dispensable. Our deepest sympathies are with the mother of this international student from India. She died in a strange country with no family support. We feel there must be very deep systemic changes to law enforcement that includes behavioural change, attitude and discipline.”
It’s a sentiment that even influencers and some celebrities are echoing. Online, comedian and television host Lilly Singh asked her social media followers to educate themselves about Kandula’s story. Singh explains that the story hits close to home as someone who has witnessed just how hard Indian women work and study in their homeland and even abroad just to make ends meet.
“India has the biggest population in the world. Indian women make up a big population of the world. If we continue to ignore Indian women, we are screwed and at a loss because of this. Too often, South Asian women are dismissed. Whether it’s tragic situations like this or smaller situations.”
As the news circulates, people across the world are expressing their outrage and are demanding justice for Kandula. The hashtags #JusticeforJaahnaviKandula and #IndianLivesMatter are currently making their rounds on social media.
The hurt and the pain in the Desi community over the last few days is deep as it is wide across the globe. Jaahnavi Kandula represents the best of all of us. She moved across the world, without her family, making sacrifices to pursue higher education and achieve a better life. pic.twitter.com/bR2TCGM2BX
— Taral V. Patel (@TaralVPatel) September 15, 2023
Since Monday, thousands of people around the globe have signed Change.org and Move On petitions addressed to Seattle and Washington elected officials, Washington Governor Jay Inslee, President Joe Biden, White House administration, as well as the Seattle Police Department.
“The Indian community in the entire country and world demand justice for Jaahnavi Kandula, and is asking for the officers to be held accountable. Not only was she mowed down like nothing, but the conversation of the officers after the event are utterly disgraceful and a shame to humanity. We demand that those officers be discharged from their duties, with no pension, and this incident be treated as manslaughter, and prosecuted,” reads the petitions.
“Jaahnavi Kandula is a daughter, a sister, a cousin, a friend and a human being, in addition to being Indian. Unlike what the officer said, Jaahnavi had VALUE, and an UNLIMITED VALUE. Let us stand and raise a voice against such abhorrent thinking, that Brown people have limited value. Despite the professional, social, and financial role played by Indians in the United States, we have not been able to escape racism and inequality many times, and our entire community has still quietly moved on,” the petition page continues.
Since the news broke, Auderer has not made public comments about the incident. The Seattle Police Department said it would not comment until the OPA concludes its investigation.