Over 200 students from over seven universities, and dozens of local residents poured into the City Hall of Cambridge, Massachusetts on the evening of February 27, holding a demonstration with chanting, singing, and speeches. Demonstrators chanted, “No good cop in a racist system!” and “One solution, revolution!” The occupation was initiated to demand justice for Arif Sayed Faisal (20), a Bangladeshi immigrant student killed by Cambridge police on January 4 as he was having a mental health crisis.
“We are engaged in the critical struggle of demanding justice for Arif Sayed Faisal, our fellow student who was murdered by the police,” said Emerson College student Daven McQueen. Faisal was a student at the University of Massachusetts Boston.
One of the protesters’ central demands is for the city of Cambridge to release the names of the officers responsible for the shooting. Earlier this year in Memphis, not only did city officials release the names of the officers who murdered Tyre Nichols, they arrested and charged the officers with murder. This was done shortly before video footage of Nichols’ fatal beating was released to the public.
However, since Faisal’s murder, Cambridge has refused to release the names, and under pressure from the community they have even doubled down on their position. Police Commissioner Christine Elow, who multiple times after his murder claimed that Cambridge police were one of the most progressive departments in the country, announced on February 14 that after a preliminary review of the shooting that there was no “egregious misconduct or significant policy, training, equipment, or disciplinary violations.” Elow also confirmed that the officer who killed Faisal is on paid administrative leave.
Anti-police brutality activists have expressed anger in response to the hollow statements of city officials, such as City Manager Y-An Huang, who said in a statement, “as a nation, we are wrestling with how to fix policing, and Faisal’s death highlights that even in Cambridge, we have more work to accomplish.” In that same statement, Huang again refused to release the names of the officers responsible.
On February 23, the Middlesex County District Attorney announced that an inquest, or an “independent” investigation led by a judge without direct DA involvement, is now underway. The DA’s office stated that “per order of the court”, no details would be released about the investigation until it is completed.
This latest City Hall occupation is one of several times that demonstrators have entered City Hall to demand justice for Faisal. The first time, on January 23, protesters disrupted a City Council meeting, and in response, city officials, including Cambridge Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui, fled rather than address demands. The second time, on February 6, protesters staged a similar disruption. “Just a few weeks ago, we entered the City Council chambers, and the City Councillors ran away, bolted,” said anti-police brutality and labor organizer Husayn Karimi. “It was embarrassing, it really was. And then we went back two weeks later, same number of people. Bolted. And then we took a little contingent of ten people…bolted,” Karimi said, describing the multiple times that community members have tried to directly address city officials with their demand of justice for Faisal.
“But they know we’re down here,” continued Karimi. “They can hear our chants. Just with ten people, just with 50 people, those of us who were there could experience the strength we had in our numbers. And although we’re just 200, maybe 300 people here, there are actually 140 million of us in this country who are in or near poverty, who are oppressed, and who have a stake in overturning this system.”