Jaahnavi Kandula Did Not Deserve This Death

Our lives will always be worth more than a few thousand dollars.

Jaahnavi Kandula, 23, was struck by a police car and killed in January. (Jaahnavi Kandula)

On Jan. 23, 2023, Jaahnavi Kandula was crossing the street when she was brutally struck by a police cruiser going 74 miles per hour. Kandula’s body was thrown 138 feet, adding her to a list of victims of senseless violence by police officers in the United States. 

Kandula, who was crossing the street at a marked crosswalk, was hit by Seattle police officer Kevin Dave who was responding to a “priority 1” emergency when he hit an unassuming pedestrian. 

It is difficult to believe that we aren’t hearing this story until nine months later, but that’s how it goes. It is only now, in September, that we are seeing the body cam footage from the incident come to light. Not only is the footage painful to hear, it is incredibly revealing. 

The bodycam footage from Officer Daniel Auderer reveals his reaction to her death dated Jan. 24, a day after Kandula’s death. He is heard laughing, saying, “It’s just a regular person” and the student’s life had “limited value.” Auderer goes on to say that they should “just write a check … 11,000 dollars” to account for her death. Auderer is the vice president of the Seattle Police Officers Guild.

Jaahnavi Kandula was a 23-year-old graduate student at Northeastern University’s Seattle campus raised by a single mother in Andhra Pradesh, India. She was due to graduate in three months with a masters in information systems. 

In a demographic analysis, Kandula and I are no different. I’m a 21-year-old Indian international student pursuing a graduate degree at a reputable American university so as to further my career and have access to an education that I may not have had in India or in Dubai, where I grew up surrounded by an Indian community. 

There were 948,519 international students studying in the United States in the 2021-’22 academic year—many of whom are from India and China. For most of us, moving abroad is never easy—financially or mentally. While I can recognize the privilege to move across the world to pursue my passion, international students leave their families and communities in their late teens and early 20s to pursue the “American Dream,” whatever that stands for in 2023. 

My master’s program is majorly Indian and Chinese international students pursuing a master’s of sciences to get a STEM OPT—a work-permit that enables us to spend three years working post-grad as long as we are able to be hired within 90 days of graduation. For the arts, however, that period is only one year. This is before we are tasked with the long and gruelling process of applying for a visa, usually an H1-B, which is a lottery. Not only is this indicative of the bias towards STEM that is apparent in the American education system and employment market, it is also incredibly tumultuous ground to stand upon. 

Students like myself spend years developing community in cities halfway across the world from our hometowns, only to have that future stolen from beneath us by being asked to leave. I have had countless family and friends miss the H1-B lottery, being forced to move back home or pursue education in a different foreign country. One of my best friends was recently forced to return home after five years in Los Angeles where they spent years cultivating community, producing art, and working in education. 

Our lives will always be worth more than a few thousand dollars. I doubt Officer Auderer knows that the amount he stated would barely cover tuition at a university like Northeastern (or USC, for me)—let alone the value of a woman who sought to do more for herself and her family. 

I try not to complain about it too loudly, I don’t want to sound ungrateful. I would never be able to write the stories I do or learn the content I discuss if I hadn’t had the opportunity to attend my groundbreaking private research university. I cry over friends forced to leave the country, mourn the loss of community from home and cringe at the cost of 17-hour flights. But I’m here. And I can only hope to do everything right so I get to stay. 

I wish Jaahnavi Kandula had had that choice to stay. I wish her legacy hadn’t been laughed at. I wish we were all more angry. I hope we are. I certainly am.

Rest in power, Jaahnavi Kandula.

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Aastha Jani is an editorial fellow at Ms. and a graduate student at the University of Southern California studying digital media and gender and sexuality studies. She is passionate about media representation, sexual health, and inclusivity. Follow their work here.