Respect is far more than a seven-letter word. It is a fundamental human right that everyone deserves. Respect ought to be – rightfully must be – fundamental to interactions involving the police, the people whom we rely on to protect and serve our communities.
Unfortunately that has not always been the case. In a recent incident, Seattle Police Officer Daniel Auderer, was heard speaking on his body camera disrespecting Jaahnavi Kandula, a young woman struck and killed by a police officer speeding to an emergency. While discussing the South Asian woman’s death in a phone call with Mike Solan, the Seattle Police Guild (SPOG) president, Auderer was shockingly dismissive. At one point. He erupted into a raucous laugh.
Statements made by that officer, himself a SPOG vice president, have outraged many throughout the city, the nation, and across the world. It immediately prompted anger from the Southeast Asian community and triggered investigations by oversight groups including the Office of Police Accountability (OPA) and the Community Police Committee. There was an on-street rally with demonstrators holding signs that read “Jail Killer Cops” and “End Police Terror” and a weekend march to the site where 23-year-old Kandula, a promising Northeastern University grad student, was fatally struck in January.
In the aftermath of the audio tape release, the Seattle Police Guild issued a statement. The SPOG release called the conversation “horrifying” saying it “has no place in civil society.” However, the statement claims “the audio was taken out of context.” The release somewhat incredulously alleges Auderer had not meant to disrespect the young woman but instead meant to satirize lawyers who would be involved in the case and would dismiss the woman as having “limited value” and “who cares? Just write a check for $11,000.”
At the time Kandula was killed last January, Mayor Bruce Harrell sent a letter to the family offering “condolences and prayers” over their loss. But after the audio was released, the mayor’s spokesman said Harrell could not comment while the OPA is still investigating the phone call. Several City Councilmembers were more forthright. Lisa Herbold, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, termed the call “careless and inhumane.” Teresa Mosqueda termed the call “fundamentally at odds with the ethos of a group of people tasked with keeping the city safe.” Tammy Morales called on the police chief to tell the council how he plans to regain control and “fix the culture.” Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal observed, “This is what happens when we normalize xenophobia and racism. It needs to stop.”
The city’s Community Police Commission responded in part saying, “The explanation that he was mocking lawyers does not make this unprofessional and inhumane conduct any better because it shows – in what was believed to be a private conversation – a callous dismissiveness toward police accountability systems that are at the heart of the city’s efforts to reform the Seattle Police Department.”
On the following Saturday, Sept 16, Mayor Harrell and Chief Adrian Diaz met with members of the city’s Southeast Asian community who have been demanding accountability. The mayor reportedly took responsibility, apologized, and suggested creating a scholarship in Kandula’s name. But one community advocate spoke for others, saying, “The laugh was so heartbreaking that it’s still ringing in my ears.”
What also resonates are concerns in South Seattle over a series of home invasion robberies targeting Asian families. Or outrage over last week’s incident when nine windows were smashed at the Wing Luke Museum in Chinatown and it took the police department 50 minutes to respond to a likely hate crime. In addition, the Friends of Little Saigon have protested lack of attention to continued crime and open drug trafficking at 12thand Jackson. Understandably there are outcries from the Asian community over disrespect and disregard for Asian American lives and safety.
If a metaphor were needed for a culture of disrespect for others, we’re likely to return to that hollow, mocking laugh on the SPOG audio. It underscores the imperative to promote respect for all people in the community in order to achieve what we have been seeking: an accountable police force we can respect.
Perhaps this call to action sounds like wishful thinking, given a system where the police union has acquired out-sized power. With reforms so badly needed, the hope is that the mayor and council, even now engaged in contract negotiations with SPOG, are activated to achieve stronger accountability measures. And, looking towards November, we’ll hope Seattle voters elect councilmembers who will work to change the culture of disrespect.
What, if anything, can be done to repair that blatant disregard? Think community policing, think more diverse hiring, think more youth chess clubs and other ways to better connect police with the people they serve and more aligned with the community. Rather than hefty hiring bonuses, perhaps consider modest housing subsidies for police who will live in the community. Seattle councilmembers, too, should find ways to better connect with the police – a department some once vowed to defund. Councilmembers – even prospective candidates — should use periodic ride-alongs to better understand challenges police face, fostering mutual respect.
Respect matters. It shows we value and appreciate others. When we treat someone with respect, we are letting them know they are important to us and their opinions matter. This helps build strong trust and creates a more positive and productive environment.
At the meeting with Southeast Asians, Mayor Harrell spoke about creating a scholarship in Jaahnavi Kandula’s name, certainly a worthy idea. Better still, let’s make the young woman’s legacy a catalyst: sparking more respect for the city’s people — all the people — those new to Seattle as well as those who invited us to these shores, more respect all around.