Friday, May 24, 2024

Protesters at Cambridge City Hall on Monday. (Photo: Adri Pray)

Dozens of protesters gathered outside Cambridge City Hall on Monday to rally and demand justice for Arif Sayed Faisal, a 20-year-old Bangladeshi man fatally shot by police Jan. 4 while experiencing a mental health crisis.

The call to action was for an occupation of City Hall, and participants were told to expect to sleep there and take shifts being present the next day. The protest was done within two hours, though, with organizers saying the change in plans followed an agreement by city officials to speak with them Tuesday.

The Boston branch of the Party for Socialism and Liberation organized the event with students in and around Cambridge, uniting around four demands: name the officers who killed Faisal, release an unredacted police incident report, fire all involved police officers immediately and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law.

“For over two months we’ve been out here demanding justice, and for over two months the City of Cambridge has done very little to address the outcry of anger and grief for our community over these senseless murders,” said Andira Alves, a group organizer and Lesley University alumna, to the crowd. “It’s clear the city is getting more and more desperate with our intensifying protests.”

The movement secured a meeting Tuesday at City Hall with City Manager Yi-An Huang and Public Safety Department interim director Elizabeth Speakman. While the meeting takes place inside, a rally similar to Monday’s will take place outside, organizers said.

“We were there the first day when Faisal was murdered and met with families and concerned community members who just wanted answers and basic transparency and had been stonewalled since the first day,” Alves said in an interview. “Now two months later, we have made progress in building the movement, but it’s not enough because the city still isn’t releasing the names and they’re telling us we have to wait a year before they start investigating, which is because they want the movement to die down.”

In the days immediately after Faisal’s killing it was feared an inquest wouldn’t happen until 2024. Instead, it began Feb. 23, after Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan finished her own office’s investigation. Cambridge police are holding an internal review, and have contracted with the Washington, D.C.-based Police Executive Research Forum to do an independent review.

Student movement

Students from Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Massachusetts at Boston, Northeastern University, Emerson College and Boston University turned out Monday to protest.

A graffiti campaign on selected Boston University buildings advertising PSL’s petition and Monday night occupation of City Hall drew Raj Kundu, a first-year psychology student, to the protest. Having departed from her campus alone, she met up with a coalition of MIT students who “further encouraged” her to attend.

Kundu hopes a change in the policing system is coming. “In terms of the police brutality that has occurred, it’s important to remember the idea and the concept of a police force is not an inherently bad idea, but I think the ‘responsibilities’ that we are giving to that police force, and then the manner in which we are training them, is making them something very dangerous, especially for the fact that we can’t hold them accountable for when they kill people,” Kundu said.

She and several others in attendance said they plan to return for Tuesday’s rally.

Judging response

Organizer and PSL member Matthew Kennedy was the final speaker to address those gathered on the steps of the property, noting it had been 75 days since the killing of Faisal.

“This movement that we’re a part of is the biggest movement these public officials have ever been on the receiving end of, and they’re showing their true colors by delaying justice as long as possible,” Kennedy said. “We’re creating the blueprint for what the community response should be every time the police kill someone – and just to be clear, the city finally being willing to talk to us is a sign of our strength, but it doesn’t mean we’re done fighting.”

The Washington Post’s police shootings database was also called out as inadequate, as it doesn’t encompass police killings beyond those committed with bullets. “That means people who were beaten to death by cops, people like Tyre Nichols, Elijah McClain, Larry Largey, who was killed by Cambridge police in 1972, are not included,” Kennedy said.

Police responses such as the one Jan. 4 makes it unsafe to struggle with mental health, said Mari, a UMass Boston student who did not provide a last name. “The police, the people who claim that they are meant to protect us, respond to mental health crises uninformed and unprepared, trained to be scared of people who are hurting,” she said to the crowd. “I’m here tired, I’m here afraid, and I’m here angry, but I’m angry enough to be hopeful.”