Saturday, July 20, 2024

Protesters on March 21 outside Cambridge’s City Hall Annex. (Photo: Adri Pray)

Calls to identify the police officers involved in a fatal Jan. 4 shooting were shut down Monday after more than an hour of public comment from supporters demanding transparency on the part of the city.

Using his “charter right” to put off a topic for one regular meeting was Quinton Zondervan – the same councillor who made the initial motion after months of protester frustration but was dismayed by a substitute motion that other councillors were prepared to introduce.

Zondervan’s order called for the release of the involved officers’ names immediately and a policy to release names in all use-of-force incidents, with a report back from the city manager and staff at the next meeting. A proposed substitute by councillor Paul Toner with councillors Patty Nolan and E. Denise Simmons as co-sponsors eliminates the timeline for releasing the names of officers in the shooting of Arif Sayed Faisal in Cambridgeport.

It instead asks only for a general policy of releasing names of officers in use-of-force incidents, with a report back at the next meeting.

The substitute is a “whitewashing” of the original, Zondervan said.

“I’m heartened to see the council finally engaging with this ask and glad to see that my colleagues agree that most forward-thinking police departments release the names of officers involved with use of force, even when awaiting the results of investigations,” Zondervan said. “It is disappointing, but not surprising, to see the release of the officers names immediately be completely erased.”

His use of the charter right would “give my colleagues an opportunity to reconsider,” Zondervan said.

Protests and disruptions

The orders responded to a series of protests outside City Hall and disruptions of 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.

A week ago, some 30 students spoke in favor of naming the officers and broke into chants, seeking to shame councillors and especially Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui into following through with expressions of sympathy for the family of the killed man and statements in support of social justice measures such as naming officers involved in violence against suspects. The Boston branch of the Party for Socialism and Liberation has organized the efforts; Monday’s meeting also had a speaker from the Boston South Asian Coalition.

The meeting Monday again heard from around 30 people calling for officers’ names, this time with a technique of speaking directly to various councillors and contrasting their past statements for social justice measures with their current silence. Some tried direct connections, such as members of the MIT community who addressed councillor Burhan Azeem, a graduate. 

Commentary allowed by ruling

The commentary was an exercise of rights granted by a Supreme Judicial Court decision March 7 that struck down a “civility code” such as one in place for several years in Cambridge that barred speakers from invoking “personalities.” 

The Boston South Asian Coalition speaker, identified as Prema B., criticized Siddiqui, who is South Asian, for doing “nothing actionable” since attending Faisal’s funeral and meeting with his family. “You did not stand with us last week when we were demanding justice for Faisal. Sadly, there, you chose to roll your eyes at us,” the speaker said.

The comments were repetitive – and all but certain to repeat next week – but cutting.

“Yesterday was Mother’s Day. Do any of you have mothers? I’m sure you all do,” said Meilyn Hue, who identified herself as a teacher and former Cambridge resident. “Do you have children? Arif Sayed Faisal’s mother yesterday did not have a son on Mother’s Day. I want you to think about that. For you to vote no on this policy order would be a complete spit in the face to me, to Faisal’s mother and to all Cambridge residents.”

Reviews are underway

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

There are three investigations of the shooting and an independent review of all Cambridge police force and deescalation policies underway on state and local levels, after which city and state officials say materials including officers’ names will be released to the public.

Before using his charter right, Zondervan said he acknowledged that the requests in his own order were “wholly insufficient.”

“As some members of the public have pointed out, this is just the first step. Knowing the identity of the officer isn’t going to change anything about what happened or make it much less likely to happen next time. Because this isn’t about just weeding out a few bad apples,” Zondervan said. “The institution of policing itself is fundamentally broken, and we have to move away from it as quickly as possible towards investment in our community.”