Photo depicting protestors marching down a street carrying a sign that reads, "Justice for Jaahnavi."

OPINION | Not Just a Bad Apple, A Rotten Tree: Jaahnavi Kandula’s Death Calls for Defunding our Corrupt Justice System

by Ruba Ayub

On Jan. 23, along with concerned community members and activists from King County, I protested at the Tukwila City Hall to demand the defunding of the Tukwila Police Department. We collectively demanded an end to the over-policing of Black and Brown people in our neighborhood. Our demands were crystal clear: Redirect these funds towards vital community-based services, such as affordable housing, youth programs, real restorative justice initiatives, and mental health services.

As we protested, heartbreaking news emerged regarding the tragic killing of Jaahnavi Kandula, a 23-year-old student from Uttar Pradesh, India. Kandula was struck by Seattle police officer Kevin Dave as she was crossing the street in South Lake Union.

In response to this, numerous community organizations, including Youth Voices for Justice WA, Justice for Herbert Hightower, FTP206, and Seattle Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, joined in solidarity for our liberation and survival to lead protests and demand justice for Kandula and her grieving family.

As we rallied for justice for Kandula and her family, we made it clear that our goal extended beyond holding officer Dave accountable. We were advocating for a reimagining of the policing system and a reallocation of resources away from law enforcement and toward community-based services. Our mission was not just about this single tragedy; it was about seeking justice for all Black and Brown lives unjustly affected by the Seattle Police Department. Over and over again, it is painfully evident that Black and Brown people in the United States are constantly targeted, marginalized, discriminated against, and left unprotected as if our existence means nothing in the eyes of policymakers, politicians, police, and wealthy capitalists.

As we continued to go on and share Kandula’s story, called for the conviction of officer Dave for murder, demanded the defunding of the Seattle Police Department, and amplified the voices of impacted families who have lost loved ones to police brutality, we saw a troubling video in which another Seattle police officer, Daniel Auderer, laughed over Kandula’s death, suggesting that her life was worth no more than an $11,000 check. These words are not an isolated incident but reflect a distressing pattern of dehumanization, abuse, and harm inflicted upon Black and Brown people in America.

This injustice is not new; it has been happening for far too long. Families who have lost loved ones to police violence have been denied justice, and harmful cops have evaded accountability. This systemic problem runs deep, and it is time for systemic change. It is not just one bad apple or bad officer!

Historically, Black and Brown people have suffered labor exploitation, genocide, segregation, bigotry, and abuse, and we continue to be discriminated against by the establishment. Police, instead of offering protection, are often responsible for our deaths, and in such cases, they often escape accountability due to laws that protect them. This shows the larger picture of how police officers uphold white supremacist racist laws and get away with exploiting, murdering, and causing harm to Black and Brown people — this is how the system operates. It is not just one or two bad cops or bad apples, but it is a WHOLE ROTTEN TREE which is racist, sexist, Islamophobic, and classist from its roots.

We must cut down the entire tree, not just remove one or two bad apples. What these Seattle officers did to Kandula is the reality of what the system does to every poor, Black, Brown, Muslim, and marginalized group in America. As an abolitionist, I believe that punishment, policing, and the larger criminal/court justice system are inherently unjust, unfair, and inhumane. Every police officer is complicit in a system that frequently disregards the needs and humanity of poor people, especially those from Communities of Color. We must explore sustainable alternatives to the current criminal justice system and redirect resources toward community services and funding.

As a Brown Desi woman in America, from a Muslim, lower Asian class and low-income background, I have always known that I am not protected and safe in this country. I faced brutality as a junior in high school when police officers and school resource officers pushed me to the floor, with one officer placing his knee on my neck and back, leaving me handcuffed and gasping for breath. I don’t share this story often because of South Asian community beliefs in “izzat,” which are norms that taboo certain behaviors and actions. If they found out a Desi community member was involved in a police case, they would shame the person, break relationships with them, spread rumors, isolate them, and dispose of them from our community.

Police brutality, racist immigration laws, caste discrimination, Islamophobia, and homophobia impact South Asian people in America as well. However, within the South Asian community, most turn a blind eye to these issues, sometimes out of fear of immigration authorities, and most of the time because they benefit from capitalism. It is no secret that many South Asian community members uphold racist, classist, and sexist beliefs and segregate lower caste, dark-skinned, and Muslim community members, even though we are all from the same larger Indian diaspora.

Defunding the police and advocating for abolition should be a rallying cry for every South Asian community, along with the abolition of Islamophobia and the caste and class system. It’s essential to recognize that at this moment, many Muslims, Dalits, lower-caste and minority Indians in South Asia face daily police brutality, gender-based violence, generational poverty, and state-sanctioned oppression. Our fight for justice for Kandula must extend to all oppressed groups, uniting our struggles for a better world where everyone can survive and live!

I urge everyone to delve into the concept of abolition, educate themselves further, and learn about transformative justice practices and principles. We must extend our support to community-based organizations and collectives, moving beyond reliance on nonprofits. It’s crucial to actively participate in protests, mutual aid actions, and community-based events, engaging in personal transformation while tirelessly striving for a world where Women of Color are genuinely protected and safe.

As a Brown Muslim woman in America, I demand my safety and protection, and I will tenaciously continue to fight for my liberation by any means necessary. I will no longer remain silent. We must end racist, patriarchal, sexist, white supremacist, state-sanctioned violence, which is the end purpose of community demands for defunding and abolishing the police and reallocating those funds to resources for the community.

The South Seattle Emerald is committed to holding space for a variety of viewpoints within our community, with the understanding that differing perspectives do not negate mutual respect amongst community members.

The opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed by the contributors on this website do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints of the Emerald or official policies of the Emerald.

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