Jaahnavi Kandula, Indian student death in US
23-year-old Jaahnavi Kandula was hit by a police vehicle driven by Officer Kevin Dave while crossing a street on January 23 I File photo

South Asians in Seattle meet Mayor, police chief; seek justice for Jaahnavi

Protestors held signs saying “Jaahnavi had more value than Seattle Police Department” and “Justice for Jaahnavi, jail killer cops”

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Members of the South Asian community in Seattle gathered to seek justice for Jaahnavi Kandula, meeting with the city's Mayor and top officials and staging a rally at the location where the Indian student tragically lost her life after being struck by a speeding police patrol car.

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.

Community leaders meet Mayor

On Saturday, the leaders and organisations 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."

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 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 organised by UTSAV, an organisation that helps connect South Asians with their communities.

"South Asian community in shock"

“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.

“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.

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.

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 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 organisation plans to escalate action if the Police Department doesn’t take action against Auderer and Dave.

"Immigrants die by a thousand cuts"

“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 Kandula's case with the US government as well as with local officials in Washington state.

(With agency inputs)

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