On Sunday night, with a persistent rain falling, 50 people held candles during a vigil to honor the life of Jaahnavi Kandula and to combat the callous disregard shown for the deep value she had in the world. Kandula was killed in Seattle when hit by a police car speeding to another incident in January of this year. In recently released body-cam footage, a police officer who responded to the accident is heard laughing and dismissing her life as having “limited value.” 

The Montclair vigil, organized by Montclair resident Natasha Mathias, and supported by AAPI Montclair, was in response to the pain and anger this brought out for those in the community, particularly the Indian-American community. When Mathias heard the audio from the Seattle PD, she was moved to organized the vigil. AAPI Montclair also released a statement responding to the disturbing tape saying, “We are appalled by the cruel and discriminatory language of a Seattle police officer…This is an affront to all in our community – and yet another example of the continuous devaluation of the lives and bodies of women of color, immigrants, and other marginalized people in our country.” 

During the vigil, Mathias shared details about Kandula’s life in India and her work to obtain an education in the United States, her accomplishments, and her unrealized dreams. Mathias also emphasized that the video re-opened wounds for Kandula’s family and friends, and also for the AAPI community in the midst of historic levels of anti-Asian bias incidents, which continue to be underreported partly due to the mistrust the tape reinforces.

Amber Reed, President of AAPI Montclair, spoke passionately about the Asian American and Pacific Islander community supporting its most vulnerable members and working to promote awareness while seeking justice. Ravi Srinivasan, of the Montclair Civil Rights Commission, also spoke about working for justice for Kandula and all who suffer from police misconduct and racial bias. 

The gathering sang a few verses from songs, including a hymn sometimes used in Bollywood film called “Humko Mann Ki Shakti Dena,” while gathered around a portrait of Kandula created by Danielle Iawata. Despite the rain, many in the group remained to connect, share support, and console one another after the vigil.

“Thank you for coming in the rain,” Natasha Mathias repeated to several attendees. “Thank you for supporting us.” 

The vigil comes just a short time before AAPI Montclair holds its 1st Annual Luminary Gala on October 6, 2023.

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