Sunday, June 23, 2024

A protester speaks March 21 at Cambridge’s City Hall Annex. (Photo: Adri Pray)

Protesters have been calling since Jan. 4 for the names of police officers involved in the shooting death of Arif Sayed Faisal, and now a city councillor has filed a policy order in agreement.

The policy order by Quinton Zondervan, which appears on Monday’s council agenda, notes that “there is no statute or official Cambridge policy that prohibits the release of the name of the officers who were involved” in the shooting of Faisal or any use-of-force incident. It asks for the city manager and staff to report back May 22 on a policy of releasing officer names.

It follows a series of disruptions at City Council meetings in which protesters call for “justice for Faisal.” Several council meetings have recessed during the actions and restarted with councillors calling in remotely; on Monday, the meeting resumed in person after some 30 students spoke in favor of naming the officers and broke into chants.

The protesters’ focus during their speeches during public comment was Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui, who had told The Boston Globe that she supported identifying the officers. 

“It’s been 125 days since Faisal was murdered, yet the last time the city council had his name on the agenda was in February,” Rafeya Raquib said. “Where is the policy order for releasing the names of the officers involved with murdering Arif Sayed Faisal? Mayor Siddiqui has publicly stated support for releasing the names – over a month ago she said she and Quinton Zondervan were working on a policy order and put it on the agenda. But that has yet to happen.”

Siddiqui’s name is not on Monday’s order, and nor is any other councillor co-sponsoring Zondervan’s request.

“‘I’ve been working on this for some time. It’s not just in reaction to Monday,” Zondervan said Friday. “I did feel it reached a point of either we would do it or not. I did give potential co-sponsors enough time to respond.”

Other councillors declined to sign on, Zondervan said.

“I don’t want to speak for anyone else, and I don’t have a clear sense,” Zondervan said, asked whether councillors had explained why they decided against co-sponsoring the order. “They’ll say their piece on Monday.”

The protesters’ perspective

The order was shared with protest organizer Matthew Kennedy after it was posted Thursday, Zondervan said. Kennedy responded Saturday, saying the order was “a step forward,” but getting the names of officers was just one of four things protesters wanted out of city officials along with an unredacted police incident report, the immediate firing of all involved police officers and prosecution of them to the fullest extent of the law.

“This is not the end of the protests” even if councillors vote Zondervan’s motion through without a lot of added procedural complications, Kennedy said. The order was “the product of a sustained campaign of protests and thousands of people signing petitions,” the work of the Boston branch of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, Bangladesh Association of New England and Boston South Asian Coalition; on Saturday his own group posted a call on Instagram for more people to sign up to speak in support.

Kennedy liked that the order went beyond the shooting of Faisal to cover use-of-force incidents in general. “When we met with the city manager in March, he talked about wanting systemic change,” Kennedy said. “This is also systemic change.”

A voice mail was also left with Siddiqui on Friday to see if she had reaction to share before Monday, and emails seeking comment were sent to Cambridge police and the City Manager’s Office.

A trend toward transparency

Jeremy Warnick, director of communications and media relations for Cambridge police, said he would need to coordinate a response. In the meantime, he directed attention to Feb. 14 statements from police commissioner Christine Elow and City Manager Yi-An Huang saying that “based on all of the information that has been reviewed so far, the department has not identified any egregious misconduct or significant policy, training, equipment or disciplinary violations” that would convince them of the need to release officers’ names before multiple investigations are complete. 

The officer who killed Faisal is on paid administrative leave during a series of investigations. He has had no complaints filed against him over a seven-year career with Cambridge police, Elow said.

Protesters, who have been in front of City Hall as well as in meetings over the past months, refer to the leave as “a paid vacation” and scoff at the idea that there was no egregious conduct involved in what they refer to “a brutal murder.” 

“Members of the public have a right to know the identities of the officers involved regardless of whether procedural violations or criminal charges are brought against those officers,” the order says. “There has been a widespread shift in recent years toward releasing the names of officers involved in shootings or killings, including recent examples from Iowa, New Jersey, California, and Arkansas.”

Zondervan said he looked forward to conversation on Monday. “It’s going to be interesting to see how people respond,” Zondervan said. “It’s a very clear ask. We’ll see where the council comes down.”

Faisal was shot fatally by police in Cambridgeport while experiencing a mental health crisis. He was holding a large knife and self-harming, but had been running from confrontation around the neighborhood while holding the knife. The officer fired on Faisal when he shook off a nonlethal round and moved toward them holding the knife.

This post was updated May 13, 2023, with comments and information from Matthew Kennedy.