Sunday, May 19, 2024

Protesters occupy the stairwell in Cambridge’s City Hall on Monday after disrupting a City Council meeting. (Photo: Sue Reinert)

Demonstrators protesting the police shooting of Arif Sayed Faisal hijacked Monday’s regular meeting of Cambridge’s City Council with loud chants that forced the council to recess and resume the meeting virtually.

The approximately 50 protesters continued to shout demands outside the second-floor council chamber in City Hall, at one point chasing Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui down the stairs to the first floor entrance and confronting police commissioner Christine Elow in the first-floor lobby.

Neither Siddiqui nor Elow said a word to the demonstrators. Siddiqui left council chambers to direct the meeting remotely. Elow walked out of the front door and appeared inside again shortly afterward, unnoticed by most of the protesters. Asked to comment, she said: “It’s a peaceful protest. People need to be heard.”

While the demonstrators chanted “release his name,” referring to the officer who shot Faisal, about a dozen police officers waited on the ground floor of the building. They left after protesters dispersed in front of City Hall at about 7:30 p.m. The meeting was recessed at about 6:30 p.m., after an hour of public comment had ended. At least one speaker tried to discuss Faisal’s death before Siddiqui cut her off, saying the issue was not on the agenda.

Police Commission Christine Elow walks away from demonstrators Monday in Cambridge’s City Hall. (Photo: Sue Reinert)

The demonstrators remained at City Hall for about an hour and said they will return for subsequent meetings. Because of the protest, the council is likely to hold future meetings remotely, including the Wednesday special meeting to discuss policies and training of police, councillor Quinton Zondervan indicated as he observed the demonstrators outside the council chamber. The protesters used similar tactics at City Hall as they did during a raucous meeting Jan. 12, where they heckled and interrupted Elow, City Manager Yi-An Huang and Middlesex County District Attorney Marian Ryan.

A neighbor called 911 on Jan. 4 after seeing Faisal jump through a first-floor window with a large knife, later identified as a kukri, and cut his wrists with the knife and broken glass. He fled when police arrived and ran through the Cambridgeport neighborhood, continuing to harm himself with the knife, police said. When police cornered him in the backyard of a house on Chestnut Street, he refused to drop the knife and a shot from a “less than lethal” sponge-tipped canister had no effect, police said. An officer shot him when he moved toward police carrying the knife, police said. He died later at a hospital.

Faisal came to the United States from Bangladesh in 2015 with his family; he was his parents’ only child, according to the Bangladesh Association of New England, which is leading the protests. He graduated from Somerville High School and studied computer engineering at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, for two years, until the spring semester of 2022. The family lived in Cambridgeport in an affordable-housing project at 625 Putnam Ave.

The demonstrators’ main demand was that the city disclose the name of the officer who shot Faisal on Jan. 4. The seven-year veteran is now on paid leave until an investigation of the shooting is complete, which could take more than a year. City officials said it was policy to withhold names, then clarified that it was not a written policy – with Elow saying his name would be withheld because he isn’t facing charges or discipline and police haven’t found “any glaring policy violations” in his conduct.

Asked during the demonstration Monday the chances that the officer’s name will be released, Elow said she is still “working with the city manager” on the issue but disclosing the name is “unlikely.”

After councillors switched to an online session, they went through the agenda, ending shortly after 10 pm.