Friday, June 14, 2024

Arif Sayed Faisal should still be alive today. He was shot to death by Cambridge police despite having caused no physical harm to anyone but himself. More than two months have passed and the officers involved have been able to keep their jobs because according to Cambridge City Manager Yi-An Huang, Faisal’s killing does not qualify as “egregious misconduct.”

Faisal’s family, friends and community are expected to wait several agonizing months – if not years – for an investigation that may even not lead to a trial, let alone a conviction. In the case of Faisal’s murder, our judicial system is designed to provide a layer of protection to killer cops that is never given to victims of police violence or even other murderers.

It’s the norm for police violence to go unpunished, but that doesn’t mean it’s acceptable. That’s why the Cambridge community, including longtime residents, workers, students and organizers continue to engage in a series of protests demanding justice from Cambridge leadership and the police department. The protests, led by the Party for Socialism and Liberation, have the same key demands as our petition, which has more than 1,000 signatures:

  • Release the names of the officers who murdered Faisal
  • Release the unredacted police report of the incident
  • Fire all the officers immediately
  • Prosecute the officers involved to the full extent of the law

The officers who killed Faisal have demonstrated they are a threat to the community. Thousands of Cambridge residents have a murderer living among them. City officials know the killer’s identity, allow them to walk about freely and continue to pay their salary with tax dollars from the same community being put at risk. There’s also the possibility that these officers have harmed other residents before Faisal, but we have no way of knowing for sure until the names of the officers are released.

A group of organizers met March 21 with the city manager and interim director of the Community Safety Department, Liz Speakman. Despite being aware of the overwhelming community support of the demands listed above and being presented with a physical copy of the petition, city officials showed little interest in discussing the demands.

Instead, they directed the conversation away from the demands by talking about police reform more generally – despite the fact that this specific case is the reason why reform is suddenly being taken more seriously by the city. Systemic changes are necessary, but there will still be instances of misconduct, and how we respond to that misconduct is a vital element of systemic reform that gets ignored far too often.

What does it say about the character of city leadership if an unnecessary fatal police shooting doesn’t always lead to publicizing the identity of the killer and terminating their employment? We’ve repeatedly had our demands waved off due to “the process.” The process is part of the problem. Our demands should be the norm. Huang’s vision of public safety is one where killer cops get a vacation paid for in part by the family and friends of their victims.

Huang has the power to name and fire the officers involved, but has decided to protect the killer instead of the community. He admitted that he’s been advised to just wait until the movement dies out. He also implied that protests are not the way to achieve our goals. Historically, loud and disruptive public protests have won us all of our civil rights that we take for granted today.

At this point even Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui supports releasing the names. She was compelled to speak on the demand only because of the attention protesters have brought to it. With the support of other councillors, the mayor could fire the city manager. The City Council may not be able to release the names of the officers directly, but it is not as powerless as it would like the public to believe.

At 8 a.m. Monday we begin picketing Cambridge City Hall. Sign up for a shift at tinyurl.com/j4fpicket. We’ll be back until city officials meet the community’s demands. Let’s prove our movement can’t be waited out.

Matthew Kennedy, Somerville


The writer is an organizer with the Party for Socialism and Liberation.