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Startup founder’s fatal shooting by police puts spotlight on Austin’s diversity issue • InNewCL

Startup founder’s fatal shooting by police puts spotlight on Austin’s diversity issue • InNewCL

#Startup #founders #fatal #shooting #police #puts #spotlight #Austins #diversity #issue #InNewCL Welcome to InNewCL, here is the new story we have for you today:

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Rajan “Raj” Moonesinghe (right) and his brother Johann Moonesinghe (left) with their cousin (middle) Photo: Johann Moonesinghe

For years Austin has made headlines as an evolving tech hub where startups, large corporations and investors alike flock to establish a presence.

But at the end of 2022, the Texas capital is in the news for a very different, tragic reason — home to the sudden death of a startup founder at the hands of a police officer.

On November 15, inKind co-founder Rajan “Raj” Moonesinghe was fatally shot outside his south Austin home in what his family and colleagues describe as a senseless accident that could have been avoided.

The 33-year-old had returned from a two-week trip and found things in his home looking out of place, according to his brother Johann. The affluent neighborhood had become a target for criminals of late – so much so that after a robbery, one homeowner felt unsafe enough to move out. The new owners proactively hired a 24-hour security guard to stand guard outside their home.

A few weeks earlier, Moonesinghe had bought an assault rifle to protect himself if a burglar tried to break into his home. His neighbor and inKind COO El Khattary had warned in what turned out to be a sadly prophetic warning: “A brown man with a big gun has no advantage in doubt.”

Turns out he had cause for concern.

Moonesinghe had previously reportedly spoken to his neighbor across the street and expressed concern that someone might be in his home and retrieved his rifle while looking around his property. With the front door open, Moonesinghe yelled at whoever was in his house to get out. He also shot into the house with his rifle. Neighbor’s security guard called 9-1-1.

According to Moonesinghe’s brother, ring camera footage showed police arriving at his brother’s property without sirens or lights, with one of the officers fatally shooting Raj in the back.

“The police didn’t call or give him time to put the gun down,” Johann told InNewCL. (A video of the incident can be viewed here. Warning: It may be inappropriate for some viewers).

Officials said they performed life-saving procedures on Raj before he was eventually pronounced dead at a local hospital.

However, it was two days before Raj’s family found out what had happened to him. Police initially held a press conference in which they said “a white man” had been shot, but gave no details.

“We were super confused,” said Johann. “We knew the cops were there and we couldn’t get hold of Raj. At first we thought he was, and then we thought he wasn’t. They said they killed a white man who shot the neighborhood. We didn’t know what to think.”

The incident happened on Tuesday, November 15 at 00:30. However, the Moonesinghe family claim they were only informed of Raj’s death by police on the evening of Thursday 17 November.

“Raj was amazing, absolutely phenomenal. He just did everything to help other people,” Johann told InNewCL. “This is the worst thing that has ever happened to me and my family. The hardest thing for me is that it was preventable.”

“We’re lucky to have a very strong family, incredible friends and super supportive people around us,” he continued. “Not only is it hard to lose someone you love, but it’s doubly, trebly hard because the police dealt with it.”

InNewCL reached out to the Austin Police Department (APD) and was referred to a Dec. 1 news release that the department was continuing to investigate the shooting.

At the beginning of the publication, Raj was described as a deceased Middle Eastern man. In the body of the press release, APD said the 9-1-1 caller described a man with a gun “as a white man wearing a gray robe and dark pants.”

In that release, police identified Officer Daniel Sanchez as the person who fatally shot Raj. Sanchez is reportedly on administrative leave pending the department’s investigation. In its statement, APD said it will be conducting two simultaneous investigations into the incident — a criminal investigation being conducted by the APD Special Investigations Unit in cooperation with the Travis County District Attorney’s Office and an administrative investigation being conducted by the APD Internal Affairs Unit supervision is carried out by the Office for Police Supervision.

After moving to Austin about five years ago, inKind leased 22,000 square feet of office space this year, Facebook’s first Austin office. Business is going well, says Johann. The startup, which started in 2016 by financing restaurants by buying large amounts of food and beverage loans upfront, has raised $27 million in growth capital and $130 million in debt over the past year and employs about 74 people . It’s operating at a running rate of $48 million, Johann said.

“What makes me really sad is that startups are very, very tough and Raj worked so hard for years. And now that the company is really on a rocket ship, he’s not here to enjoy it,” he added.

Johann told InNewCL he also feels “guilty” about the decision a few years ago to move the startup he co-founded with his brother Andrew Harris and Miles Matthias from Washington, DC to Austin. Johann said an early investor in Uber and Twilio he was hoping to move to a tax-free state. Seattle and Miami were also included.

“Obviously the shooting wasn’t my fault,” Johann told InNewCL. “But I don’t think that would have happened anywhere else. I’m gay and brown, grew up in LA and lived in DC for a long time. The only time I experienced racism was when I moved to Austin.” While the brothers’ family hails from Sri Lanka, the couple was born in Los Angeles.

Khattary told InNewCL he found the city’s lack of diversity “an odd thing” given its so-called progressive reputation, and called the police’s treatment of people of color “disheartening.” For example, during the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, 19 officers were accused of seriously injuring protesters. Earlier this year, the officers were charged with using excessive force.

“There’s clearly something about Austin and Black Lives Matter in 2020 that highlighted a lot of that,” he told InNewCL. “This is a statewide problem, but Austin definitely has more than its fair share. In this case the official perceived him [Raj] as a major threat and didn’t give him a chance.”

The contrast between the city’s progressiveness and an overwhelmingly “very hospitable” population, and incidents like this can be difficult for outsiders to understand, Johann said.

“I don’t think there is overt racism. It’s more of an unconscious bias, where people make split-second judgments about others,” he added. “And that’s really problematic. I think if Raj was white he probably wouldn’t have been killed.”

Austin’s lack of diversity isn’t a new problem. For example, as InNewCL reported in March, the proportion of black residents has steadily declined over time, to an estimated 7% in 2020. Many of Austin’s neighborhoods resemble those of Silicon Valley, with predominantly white and Asian residents and far fewer Hispanic and black people.

Johann doesn’t want his brother to have died in vain. While he says he doesn’t “feel safe” in Austin right now and has a hard time contemplating asking other people to move here, he also knows they can’t just move like that.

Instead, he hopes to transform Austin “to make it a place that’s safe for everyone.”

“I hope the Austin Police Department will even start the dialogue, give us answers, and tell us what they’re going to do differently to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” Johann said.

He may also want to raise capital that will specifically invest in companies that could potentially help ensure what happened to Raj doesn’t happen to others through data, improved surveillance cameras and other technology

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