At around 8:00 pm on Monday, January 26th, 2023, 23-year-old graduate student Jaahnavi Kandula was killed when a Seattle police officer hit her at an intersection in South Lake Union. Officers tried to provide CPR to Kandula at the scene, but Kandula passed away shortly after medics transported her to Harborview Medical Center.
The Seattle Police Department claimed that Officer Kevin Dave, who had been traveling at 74 miles per hour, was responding to a “priority one” call regarding a health incident of possible overdose when he hit Kandula. Dave hit Kandula at a speed of approximately 63 mph after attempting to slow down and avoid the collision. According to the report, Dave had his emergency lights on, but did not activate his siren continuously – instead, he “chirped” the alarm as he approached the intersection. It was later determined that the other incident involved a 28-year-old man, who declined transportation to the hospital.
Shortly after the collision, Officer Daniel Auderer, a “drug recognition expert” was dispatched to the scene to determine if Kandula was under the influence or impaired at the time of the accident. The audio from this dispatch was recorded on Auderer’s bodycam and released by the Seattle Police Department on Monday, September 11th, 2023. In the audio, only Auderer’s responses to another person in conversation are audible.
Auderer can be heard describing the way he believes Kandula was hit. After saying, “But she is dead,” he laughs. He goes on to say “No, it’s a regular person,” and follows up shortly after with “Yeah, just write a check,” a laugh, and “Yeah, $11,000. She was 26 anyway,” – Kandula was actually 23 years old – “She had limited value.” Auderer, who also serves as the Vice President of the Seattle Police Officers Guild, reported that he was speaking to Guild President Mike Solan, with the intention of mocking lawyers, and that the comments were “not made with malice.”
– – Public Response – –
Following Kandula’s death and the audio release of Auderer’s comments, protests erupted across the nation. In Seattle, on Saturday, September 16th, 2023, crowds marched through the exact intersection where Kandula was killed. They demanded the Seattle Police Department to take disciplinary actions against its officers. The same day, South Asians for America organized a vigil and rally in Queens, New York to ensure that their “collective voice was heard.” On Sunday, September 17th, 2023, residents of the greater Bay Area surrounding San Francisco held a vigil to create a community mourning space for people of color and immigrants.
United States Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) also both issued statements on X, formerly known as Twitter, regarding Kandula’s death and Auderer’s comments. Rep. Jayapal said the case made her “sick to my [her] stomach”, and demanded justice for Kandula. Rep. Khanna claimed that “Anyone who thinks that a human life has ‘limited value’ should not be serving in law enforcement.”
Other notable South Asian figures also released statements expressing outrage at Kandula’s death. South Asian influencer Lilly Singh posted an Instagram reel addressing the dismissal of the violence that Indian girls and women face internationally. In regards to Jaahnavi’s goals to earn a master’s degree and provide for her family, Singh writes that to “have her life taken and dismissed in this way is simply heartbreaking and unjust to the highest degree.” Actor and filmmaker Farhan Akhtar also took to Instagram, to state that he knew that Kandula’s potential “as a student preparing to make a place for herself in the world” was limitless.
– – Jaahnavi Kandula’s Legacy – –
Kandula was a student at Northeastern University’s Seattle campus, pursuing a master’s degree in Information Systems within the College of Engineering. Kandula was set to graduate in December 2023. She had come to Seattle in 2021 from India’s Kurnool District in Andhra Pradesh with the ultimate goal of pursuing a degree and career to help her mother.
Kandula’s uncle, Ashok Mandula, expressed shock at the news that his niece had died in this way. Kandula had become like a “sister and a daughter” within their family after she came to the United States. Following Kandula’s death, Mandula had raised over $161,000 through GoFundMe as of Tuesday, November 7th, 2023. Kandula’s remains were returned to her family in India with the help of the Telugu Association of North America.
Kandula was not only a bright figure in her family and home, but also in her academic career. In a message to students on Wednesday, January 25th, 2023, Dean David Thurman of Northeastern’s Seattle campus stated that “Jaahnavi is remembered as a stellar student and a delightful and effervescent human being.” He expressed that she would be missed dearly on campus. The Office of the Chancellor of Northeastern University later released a statement as well, promising to award Kandula’s family with her degree posthumously.
– – Past Instances of APIDA Brutality – –
This is not an isolated incident of brutality against persons in APIDA (Asian Pacific Islander Desi Americans) communities. There is a long history of racist attitudes against APIDA persons in the United States and its occupied territories, as seen in large-scale historical events and policies.
APIDA communities’ histories in Los Angeles are entrenched in violence. In the fall of 1871, tensions were very high due to a young Chinese woman’s kidnapping in downtown LA’s Chinatown neighborhood. On October 24th, 1871, a gunfight broke out between several Chinese men of two feuding Huiguan (mutual benefit associations) over the kidnapping. During law enforcement’s response to the incident, one officer was wounded and an assisting civilian, Robert Thompson, was killed. Almost immediately, word spread of Thompson’s death. The Chinese, who had been taking cover in the Coronel Building, were dragged out by hundreds of rioters, then taken to the gallows. The first man who had been hung was buried, and another seventeen bodies were laid out in a jail yard the next morning. The Chinese Massacre of 1871 resulted in the death of ten percent of the Chinese population in LA at the time. It is believed that only one of the men killed had even participated in the original shootout. Of ten men who stood trial for the murder of the Chinese men, only eight were convicted on manslaughter charges – these were then overturned due to a legal technicality.
This was not an isolated incident. On September 4th, 1907, hundreds of working white men gathered to drive South Asian migrant workers in the community out of Bellingham, Washington. In an attempt to “scare them so badly that they will not crowd white labor out of the mills,” a mob moved throughout the town, inflicting property damage, beating people, throwing rocks, overpowering law enforcement and stealing South Asian workers from their homes and workplaces. The 1907 Bellingham Riots rounded up over two hundred immigrant workers, forced them to spend the night in the basement of City Hall, and successfully drove the entire South Asian population out of Bellingham within ten days.
Over a century later, this brutality still persists. On August 5th, 2012, six people were killed and three were wounded in a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. The victims included Paramjit Kaur, Satwant Singh Kaleka, Prakash Singh, Sita Singh, Ranjit Singh, and Suveg Singh. A white gunman with neo-Nazi associations had walked into the temple, and opened fire on the worshippers. The attack did not end until a police officer shot and killed the gunman. This attack occurred during a surge of violence against people perceived to be Muslim after 9/11.
More recently, on July 14th, 2020, an 89-year-old Chinese woman was attacked and set on fire by two strangers. One of the attackers slapped her in the face, and her shirt was set on fire shortly after. She had to put her hair up and rub her back against a pole to stop the flames. Initially, she didn’t feel comfortable reporting the incident, and, out of fear of worrying them, it took her a while to tell her family as well. Two 13-year-old boys were eventually arrested and charged with third-degree assault in the case. Because the woman, who only spoke Cantonese, didn’t report any racial slurs, police did not categorize the attack as a hate crime. “Stop AAPI Hate” protests erupted across New York City after this attack.
On March 16th, 2021, a 21-year-old white man shot and killed eight people across three spas in Atlanta, GA. The victims of these attacks included Daoyou Feng, Hyun Jung Grant, Suncha Kim, Soon Chung Park, Xiaojie Tan, Yong Ae Yue, Delaina Ashley Yuan Gonzalez, and Paul Andre Michels. Six of the eight people killed were Asian women. The suspect claimed that he had committed these crimes because he wanted to eliminate “temptation” due to his “sexual addiction,” perpetuating dangerous stereotypes and the fetishization of Asian women.
These incidents are just a few of many. In recent times, police brutality against APIDA persons has been witnessed across the nation. Exaggerated by the September 11th, 2001 attacks and the COVID-19 pandemic, incidences of racism against Asian Americans have been on the rise. In fact, the FBI reported a seventeen-fold increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes from 2000 to 2001, including assaults, attacks in places of worship, and murders. The American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee reported over six hundred 9/11-related hate crimes against Arabs, Muslims, and people assumed to be Arab or Muslim, including Sikhs and South Asians. Hate crimes against Asian Americans increased more than 73% in 2020, which is disproportionate to the national rise in hate crimes by 13% in the same year. These numbers don’t include attacks and aggressions that have gone unreported due to fear of backlash from assailants or law enforcement authorities.
APIDA lives have historically been devalued and brutalized in the United States. Jaahnavi Kandula had a long, successful life ahead of her, as did the thousands of other Asian Americans who have faced racism in the U.S. Without acknowledgement and solidarity across marginalized populations, as well as active policy change to the classification of hate crimes and intentional protection of vulnerable communities, Asian Americans will continue to face undue violence and aggression.
Visual Credits: Scott Davidson