Boston-area students and activists picketed Cambridge City Hall from Monday to Friday in protest of the fatal shooting of 20-year-old Sayed Faisal by a Cambridge Police Department officer, marking the latest demonstration in a monthslong campaign.
Faisal, a Bangladeshi American student at the University of Massachusetts Boston, was killed by police on Jan. 4. The shooting occurred after the Cambridge Police Department responded to a 911 call reporting that a man had jumped through a window and was harming himself, according to a CPD press release. After a foot chase through Cambridgeport, Faisal allegedly moved toward police wielding a knife, and when a sponge round failed to stop him, an officer fatally shot him.
The weeklong picket included an iftar — a traditional meal when Muslims break their fast after sunset during Ramadan — on Monday, a mural session on Wednesday, an open mic event on Thursday, and several rallies.
Party for Socialism and Liberation organizer and MIT alumnus Husayn R. Karimi said in a Monday interview that it was important to hold an iftar because of Faisal’s family’s Muslim identity.
“Faisal’s family and many community members — many people in the Bangladeshi community — are Muslim, practice Islam, and observe Ramadan,” Karimi said. “Many of the organizers are Muslim too.”
Karimi, who emceed the Monday protest, said the decision to picket City Hall drew inspiration from historic social movements.
“Pickets have a very important legacy in the labor movement and the civil rights movement as a demonstration of being fed up,” Karimi said. “We wanted to picket to draw more attention to the issue and do it for a prolonged period of time to show our strength that we’re out here for the long haul.”
On Monday, protesters marched in an oval along the sidewalk facing City Hall, waving signs and shouting chants of “If we don’t get no justice, then they don’t get no peace!” and “Can’t stop, won’t stop! Jail those killer cops!” One demonstrator pounded on a drum to the rhythm of the chants as another played a cymbal and danced.
Protesters reiterated demands for City Manager Yi-An Huang ’05 and other officials to name, fire, and prosecute the officers involved in Faisal’s killing, as well as to release the full unredacted police report. Huang has maintained that the names of the officers and the police report will be released following the completion of the Middlesex District Attorney’s investigation.
The “Justice for Faisal” movement comprises students from more than seven Boston-area universities and members of Safe Schools Somerville, the Bangladeshi Association of New England, and the Party for Socialism and Liberation, in addition to other residents and activists.
At the Monday rally, Party for Socialism and Liberation organizer and MIT senior Susanna Chen criticized Huang for his handling of a recent meeting between activists and city officials.
“During the meeting, it became immediately clear that the City Manager Huang did not see us as constituents he needed to answer to,” Chen told protesters. “We didn’t anticipate the extent to which the City Manager chose to disrespect us and this movement.”
In an emailed statement to The Crimson, Huang wrote that he does not support firing and prosecuting any officers before the conclusion of the district attorney’s investigation.
“Last month, I met with four Boston PSL organizers and 13 student organizers and had a two-hour conversation. I appreciate their passion and dedication,” Huang wrote. “We must wait for the inquest to conclude and I am committed to taking action if wrongdoing is found.”
Huang also wrote that Cambridge “is not waiting to do the work of responding to this tragedy.”
In the months following Faisal’s killing, Huang and other officials have pledged reforms, including equipping CPD officers with body cameras and increasing funding for non-police public safety alternatives. CPD has also hired the Police Executive Research Forum — a third-party police think tank — to conduct an external independent review of the department.
Some protesters have taken issue with the think tank’s review — including at Monday’s rally — citing the organization’s police-affiliated leadership.
“The president, the vice president, the treasurer, and the secretary of PERF are all cops,” PSL organizer Matthew Kennedy said Monday.
In a March press release, the city announced that the review will be conducted by both law enforcement professionals and researchers outside of policing.
Karimi called the weeklong picket “extremely energizing” and said participating was like “a release of frustration, rightful lifelong indignation.”
“It cuts through a lot of the hopelessness that in this case the city wants us to feel — that we can’t do anything,” Karimi said.