he Seattle Police Department killed Jaahnavi Kandula at the intersection of so many of this city’s problem’s.
The daughter of a single mother and elementary school teacher who’d gone into debt to support her, Kandula traveled to the other side of the world to pursue a master’s degree in information systems. She was killed crossing the street.
If you follow me on Twitter, you can tell this infuriates me. And it should infuriate you.
This can’t happen.
SPD stays SPD
As I’ve written about before, police kill. They kill in Seattle, they kill everywhere else in the country. They killed more people in 2022 than they had in any year where data was recorded previously.
This one was different, but not unheard of. A cop (likely) speeding through a city on residential streets struck and killed a civilian who had nothing to do with the call the officer the officer was racing toward.
The call itself was an for an overdose—and an overdose the Seattle Fire Department was already present on the scene of and providing aid for.
The police department has released few details about the collision and was slow to get information out to the public Monday night. SPD did not confirm that Kandula had died until Tuesday afternoon, nearly 18 hours after the crash, and initially did not disclose that the collision involved a police officer, tweeting only that they were “investigating [a] collision.” The department’s official post still says the officer was responding to an unspecified “priority 1” call—the most urgent call type, which can include everything from a person unconscious at a bus stop to an active shooter—rather than an overdose.
I’m sick of this.
The Seattle Police Department works for the city of Seattle, its council, its mayor and, above all else, its people. This isn’t a two-way street.
They work for us.
So when we employ them at a cost approaching $400 million annually, they can provide transparent and straightforward information to us—promptly.
From the moment this happened, they’ve slow-played providing info and even now there’s data that exists that we deserve to have: the speed of the vehicle, whether or not sirens/lights were going, the name of the officer, the officer’s driving record on-duty and off and even the dashcam video.
The mayor and the council have regurgitated SPD’s notion they need time to complete an investigation when they already have this information. It’s the Seattle Process™️ for accountability.
I’d guess the parties above are instead most concerned about litigation and, with that in mind, not providing any further details than they need to.
Obviously, that’s all but a matter of time. Police misconduct has cost American taxpayers $3.2 billion over the last decade. Just since 2020, Seattle PD had 88 collisions causing property damage and/or bodily injury.
The police are a tool for which there are very few situations they are best handling. This wasn’t one of them.
As mentioned, the original call was for an overdose and the Seattle Fire Department was already on scene. The individual declined further treatment.
Because few in power expend the political will necessary to examine the outsized role the police play in Seattle’s social services, we keep a status quo where someone asleep at a bus stop is given the same call priority as an active shooter.
It’s a status quo where, if you call for help because of an overdose, the police will come.
Now someone is dead because of it.
This is punching down at chuds but before diving into other more powerful folks, but I can’t write this post and not note that mere hours after an innocent bystander was killed by a police car speeding through our city, right-wing podcaster Brandi Kruse was on KIRO Newsradio demanding more police speeding through our cities.
She’s added multiple tweets on police pursuits since. Nada on this killing.
Maybe news takes a while to make it up to North Bend.
Anyway, real people.
On the subject of tweets and bad ones, here’s the start of a quick thread from Andrew Lewis, whose district includes the intersection where the incident happened.
He’s supposedly one of the more progressive members of Seattle’s council.
Whose car was it moving through this infrastructure? Nobody wants to touch that.
I reached out to my three city councilmembers, including citywide rep Sara Nelson—who has a post atop her own Twitter claiming she was “elected to address Seattle’s public safety crisis.”
Because you’re more likely to get responses once you start firing FOIA requests their way, Nelson responded to an email containing a number of questions with this alone:
I have questions about the circumstances as well but to my knowledge, that information hasn’t been released yet.
Just waiting on the ol’ police to fill us—the bosses, the watchdogs—in on the details.
After the usual auto-responder from Dan Strauss’s office, the crew in my district, a member of his staff reached out with the following:
I just wanted to let you know that we received this email and will look into these questions. This is a terrible tragedy, and since it is an ongoing investigation, we will likely not have the answers to these questions right away.
Someone was hit and killed by the most well-funded department in the city on an unnecessary call and the best we get now is “We’ll look into it. Once the cops tell us what they found in their investigation—about themselves.”
Y’all, we pay you to care about this stuff as much as we do. We pay you to care about this stuff more than most of us do.
Answers to important questions exist now. You, as the boss of the people with those answers, should have them now. And so should we.
But hey, instead of publicly demanding answers for constituents, there are $2 billion publicly-funded convention centers to open up.
Excited to have participated in the ribbon cutting of the @SeaConvCenter Summit addition which nearly doubles the capacity of the Convention Center. This is great news for our downtown businesses, hotel, and hospitality industries! #SeattleConventionCenter pic.twitter.com/KbwG2YPEhB— Sara Nelson (@CMSaraNelson) January 25, 2023
The new Summit building of the Seattle Convention Center represents a cornerstone of our vision for a revitalized downtown. Adjacent to hotels, restaurants, and more, the Summit will not only attract new visitors, but also enhance the lives of those who live and work here. pic.twitter.com/ojs8pvwCjE— Mayor Bruce Harrell (@MayorofSeattle) January 25, 2023
You can add the Seattle Times to the group of folks who are mostly keepin’ on keepin’ on in the wake of this tragedy.
Almost the entirety of their coverage, outside of softer notes on Kandula’s family (though warranted and humanizing), comes straight from Seattle PD and their blog.
The most prominent story on the paper’s homepage covering the incident—the one the paper was circulating and socializing on Thursday—is a stripped-down version of Wednesday’s piece, removing important context on the unnecessary nature of police involvement and budget cuts to an effort to improve the safety of the intersection.
It’s important to underscore that austerity has a cost.
Pedestrian safety, SDOT and the Seattle Process
There’s no one person or entity you can throw this failure at the feet of. This is likely a relief to the consciouses of the people involved, but it’s maddening to the citizen looking for someone (everyone!) to take sone responsibility.
Seattle hit a record-high for people killed by cars in 2022—likely a byproduct of these tragedies being something the city just…doesn’t care much about.
PubliCola and Barnett, again, with the details:
For years, the city had been working on a major safety upgrade in the rapidly developing Dexter corridor, with a new protected crosswalk at Dexter and Thomas as its centerpiece. The new crosswalk would have prevented vehicles from using Thomas Street to cross Dexter while slowing perpendicular traffic on Dexter itself.
Last year, Mayor Bruce Harrell canceled the remaining elements of the safety project, citing the need to cut costs amid budget challenges. “This project is a green street/public realm project that connects South Lake Union with Seattle Center. The reduction would pause the remaining project scope indefinitely,” Harrell’s 2023 budget says. The cuts amounted to $2.2 million of the $5.5 million project, according to Harrell spokesman Jamie Housen, who pointed out that the city council did not restore funding for the project in their version of the budget.
This is what the intersection looks like now. The centerpiece of this project.
An easily-penetrable cage of flexposts, some curb blocks that extend about two inches vertically and a couple signs. Not even one of those crummy combo sets with a beg button and blinking lights.
This is what Dexter Avenue North looks like one block away, if you were heading north toward the intersection where the Seattle PD cruiser hit Jaahnavi Kandula.
Curb to curb that’s what, 30 or 40 yards? I know there are a few flex posts, parking and even some bike lanes if you look close enough, but if the street were as empty of cars as this—as it likely was at 8 p.m. on a Monday night—don’t you think you could go pretty fast if you wanted to?
For sure. And people do.
We don’t know, yet, the speed of the cop’s vehicle—but the city’s refusal to make it physically impossible for cars to move at dangerous speeds through our neighborhoods means they will continue to do so.
In his first day on the job, new Seattle Department of Transportation Director Greg Spotts commissioned a 90-day review of Vision Zero Seattle, the city’s efforts to make good on its pledge to eliminate traffic deaths completely.
His first day was September 7th.
Counting 90 days from then would’ve been December 6th of 2022. Here today on Friday, January 28th, it has been 141 days.
Based on Spotts’s Twitter feed, when the report is released it will be a draft that will then receive public comment.
That’s how things work in Seattle—at least when it comes to public goods that aren’t meant for cars. If a seven-lane bridge needs to be reopened ASAP, all hands on deck. Money’s right there.
Everything else, there’s stuff like the Seattle Transportation Plan. Described as “our commitment to building a transportation system that provides everyone with access to safe, efficient, and affordable options to reach places and opportunities,” this effort started in March of 2022.
If they stay right on schedule, we should have something of an updated plan to do some things by “summer” of this year. In the coming years.
They’re currently in their second round of community engagement. Really, if you want to, you can go check it out this Saturday morning—between the hours of 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Or maybe you wanna head into the heart of downtown at rush hour—you could this coming Tuesday between 4 p.m. and 7 pm.
They will, no joke, “share what we heard from you during phase 1 and show how your input is helping guide the plan.”
Yo. Here’s the deal.
We have jobs. We have lives. We can’t be going to a meeting or two a week just to pop in and say we should do smart things instead of dumb things.
We got our job, you have yours. Do it.
The Seattle Department of Transportation knows what a safe street looks like. Their bosses in the mayor’s office and city council know they know.
SDOT knows what sustainable transportation looks like. They know scalable urban ingress and egress cannot revolve so heavily around cars.
You don’t need to ask us. You don’t need to ask retirees with way too much time on their hands and an intense fear of change.
This can’t be fun. It’s more expensive, it leads to worse outcomes and it takes forever to get there.
People are dying out here.
We voted. That’s enough. Do what you know is right.
That was a rant. And any rant like this is going to sound like it comes from a place of deep cynicism.
That’s not entirely wrong.
But the reason for the anger and cynicism is that I know we can be better. Seattle can be better and the world can be better. It is eminently possible and all it takes political will and a desire to stop dicking around.
We have the knowledge, for sure. We have the resources or could get them if we wanted them. This whole operation above, they’re working for us. We pool a bit of all our money together so it best helps everyone. It should be doing that.
We can prevent things like this from happening. We can live a lot better than we’re living.