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News / Northwest

Marchers in Seattle call for justice, respect for Jaahnavi Kandula

By Lauren Girgis, The Seattle Times
Published: September 18, 2023, 7:37am

SEATTLE — Members of the Seattle area’s South Asian community marched Saturday evening to the site where a police officer struck and killed a woman with his patrol car in January, demanding sensitivity and respect following the release this week of body-camera video showing a police union leader laughing and joking shortly after the incident.

Jaahnavi Kandula, a 23-year-old from India, was studying for a master’s degree at Northeastern University’s campus in Seattle’s tech-oriented South Lake Union neighborhood. She was killed at Dexter Avenue North and Thomas Street on Jan. 23, when Officer Kevin Dave struck her at 74 mph while responding to an overdose call.

About 100 people gathered at Denny Park on Saturday and made their way to the intersection where Kandula was hit. They held signs saying “Jaahnavi had more value than SPD” and “Justice for Jaahnavi, jail killer cops.” The rally was put together by UTSAV, which means festival or celebration, an organization based in Bothell that helps connect South Asians with their communities.

“We’re not a monolith, the Indian community,” Rep. Vandana Slatter, D-Bellevue, said to the crowd. “There’s diaspora in the community, but we are all united today.”

Video from the night of the crash has sparked international outrage over the officer’s comments.

Officer Daniel Auderer, vice president of the Seattle Police Officers Guild, inadvertently left his body camera running after responding to Dave’s location to assess whether he was under the influence. After concluding he was not impaired, Auderer called SPOG President Mike Solan and said Kandula’s life had “limited value” and that the city should “just write a check.”

Only Auderer’s side of the conversation is audible in the footage. In it, he laughs and dismisses the implication that Dave may be at fault.

“Eleven thousand dollars. She was 26 anyway,” Auderer said, misstating the victim’s age. “She had limited value.”

The Seattle Police Officers Guild said Friday that Auderer’s remarks were mocking how lawyers would act during a lawsuit. Auderer wrote in an August statement to the Office of Police Accountability that he “had no idea who the victim was,” and only knew the victim’s approximate age and sex at the time.

OPA initiated an investigation into the comments in August.

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

Shifali Jamwal, who brought her 3-year-old son, said 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,” 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.

As people marched through the Dexter and Thomas crosswalk, one car continued moving forward, honking at protesters, despite several yield for pedestrian signs.

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

Earlier Saturday, community members met with Seattle’s mayor and police chief regarding the release of the footage. They said they do not endorse eliminating police, but that Seattle must improve training, and stay engaged with the South Asian community. Statements by Mayor Bruce Harrell to date, that the offensive remarks represent an isolated incident, don’t go far enough to deal with the system and police culture, leaders said.

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.”