On January 24th, 2023, a 23-year-old exchange student from India, Jaahnavi Kandula, was killed at a Seattle crosswalk by a speeding police car going nearly 50 miles per hour over the speed limit. Police officer and Vice President of the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG) Daniel Auderer, who has a long history of racist harassment, illegal arrests, and violence, was caught on video joking about Jaahnavi’s death. “She was 26 anyway,” he said, misstating her age. “She had limited value.”
As Socialist Alternative member and Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant pointed out, we only have this evidence of the officers’ callous disregard for human life because Auderer accidentally left his police bodycam running.
On the phone with SPOG President Mike Solan, Auderer suggested that the police department “write a check” for $11,000 as compensation for taking Jaahnavi’s life. And even more outrageous than the footage itself is the fact that in the over nine months since Jaahnavi’s death, the city’s Democratic establishment has failed to take any action whatsoever, other than toothless bureaucratic proposals. They have turned a deaf ear to the widespread demands from American and immigrant activists and working people to fire Auderer and issue compensation to Jaanhavi’s family in India.
Sawant is the only one calling for what’s actually necessary to hold the police accountable: her office has called for an independently elected community control over the police and the immediate firing of Auderer and Solan.
Capitalist Institutions Aren’t Neutral
According to Seattle’s Community Police Commission (CPC), Auderer has been the subject of 29 complaints to Seattle’s Office of Professional Accountability (OPA) and eighteen investigations, three of which involved sustained findings. Yet Auderer has not been suspended once!
During Seattle’s George Floyd protests in 2020, the OPA received over 19,000 complaints about police violently cracking down on peaceful protesters. The OPA chose to dole out a mere 25 punishments that year, most of them oral reprimands.
In a society with massive wealth and racial inequality, institutions are not independent or neutral, regardless of the establishment’s claims otherwise. Far from being independent, the OPA is hand-in-glove with the Democratic establishment which has controlled Seattle for decades, and with Seattle Police leadership. It is not a viable tool to hold the police accountable. As Sawant said, in reality, the OPA “is designed to exhaust working people’s outrage over police abuses, by miring every complaint in months of ‘investigation’ certain to accomplish nothing.”
Independently elected community control over the police, as Sawant and Socialist Alternative are calling for, would be nothing like the OPA. A democratically-elected, civilian-led police control board would have full powers to hire, fire, subpoena, set budgets, and department policies, and take over the negotiation and approval of police union contracts.
Police And Political Establishment Go Together
In the years since George Floyd’s brutal murder, both Democrats and Republicans have effectively given carte blanche to violent police officers by increasing funding for policing and dismantling what little oversight there is. In the absence of a movement to fight for police accountability and to fund housing and social services by taxing the rich, Democrats have swung back to their default of “law and order” policing. This can be seen from the policies of Black Democratic Party Mayors Bruce Harrell of Seattle and Eric Adams of New York, and former Mayor Lori Lightfoot of Chicago, all of whom have used their racial identity to push through pro-corporate, pro-police policies.
Mayor Harrell has made it a priority to increase the police budget and hire more cops while slashing Seattle’s funds for social services by tens of millions of dollars.
Atlanta’s predominantly Democratic political establishment is building a massive $90 million dollar training facility for police officers, dubbed “Cop City” by grassroots activists opposing it. Just weeks after Tyre Nichols was savagely beaten to death by five Memphis police officers, both Democratic and Republican Tennessee legislators passed a bill to ban community oversight boards entirely. Taking their place are powerless “advisory boards” that have no authority to investigate police abuses, let alone hold the police accountable. And Biden’s 2023 budget included over $537 million in grants for police departments, the most of any budget in over a decade, and set aside billions to put 100,000 more officers on the street.
Working-Class Oversight Now!
In 2018, Sawant was the only Councilmember to vote against the SPOG contract, which undid many of the limited police oversight measures that were put into place under pressure from the BLM movement. And in 2020, rank-and-file union activists, members of Socialist Alternative, and Sawant’s office succeeded in expelling the SPOG from the MLK County Labor Council, sending a message that there is no place in the labor movement for an utterly reactionary organization that defends the right of the police to attack poor and working people with impunity.
Working people can’t trust any arm of the ruling class to hold the police accountable. Under capitalism, the real role of the police is not to keep ordinary people safe, but to enforce the interests of the elite by force, such as when they have been deployed against workers’ strikes or to intimidate peaceful protests. We need to fight for independent, democratically-elected community boards with full powers. But it will be impossible to wage a real struggle for community control without breaking from the Democrats and Republicans. We need an independent movement based in the working class, not the two parties of Wall Street.
And ultimately, fighting against police brutality and the political power brokers has to be a fight against capitalism itself, and for a socialist society free of exploitation by a ruling class, a society that can be free of crime and provide safe communities and high standards of living for all.
Justice for Jaahnavi!