It has been just over two months since our fellow Beacon, Sayed Arif Faisal, was shot and killed by officers of the Cambridge Police Department while experiencing a serious mental health crisis. It has been just over two months of complete silence from our “anti-racist and health-promoting” university, that supposedly is interested in the social betterment of the Boston area. It’s been just over two months of platitudes from the Mayor of Cambridge Sumbul Siddiqui and City Manager Yi-An Huang. It’s been just over two months of stonewalling from Cambridge Police Commissioner Christine Elow.
I honestly struggle to find the words to express how I feel about this absolutely pathetic response, lack of leadership and lack of compassion in the face of Faisal's killing. The UMass Boston administration has, time and time again, demonstrated itself as incredibly weak-willed and impudent. The powers that be in Cambridge are equally as weak, hiding behind Massachusetts’ horribly opaque public records laws .
I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again here—the Cambridge Police killed a 20-year-old UMass Boston student, and the response has been craven and gutless. Faisal could have been any of us. Any of us could have known him. I’ve even met people who went to the same high school as him around the time he was there.
What do the powers that be have to say about this killing?
“…the department has not identified any egregious misconduct or significant policy, training, equipment or disciplinary violations,” says the Cambridge Police Commissioner, further purporting that the officer who shot Faisal has had no complaints made about him in his seven years on the force .
“While I understand the call for blanket transparency in all fatal police shootings, I believe that making a determination based on each case is reasonable,” says City Manager Huang, essentially implying that he doesn’t believe the government has any responsibility to reveal the names of officers involved in a fatal shooting of a young student in dire need of help .
Together, the City Manager and Police Commissioner have made overtures about reforms within the Cambridge Police Department. They talk about new less-than-lethal equipment, alternatives to police for mental health calls, “third party” reviews—which supposedly will be available to the public—and some sort of “procedural justice dashboard”…whatever that means .
This is all well and good, though we’ve already established that Massachusetts has extremely weak transparency laws, and we have already seen how ineffectual body cameras are at stopping police brutality. Just think about how many of “those videos” we have seen. It’s all just words at this point and words are cheap. We’ll see if these changes really take effect and how well they are carried out. Crucially, these measures ignore the most immediate concern…justice for Faisal and his family.
Let’s sum this up. The Cambridge Police Department investigated itself and obviously found that they did absolutely nothing wrong. The city manager then threw sand in the public’s eyes regarding the officers involved. They all, with the help of the Mayor, quickly distracted us with talk of future reform, while justice still hasn’t been done and the powers that be seem to want to put the killing of Faisal squarely behind them.
We need justice and we need it now. What does justice actually look like?
Over the past months, the Justice for Faisal movement has been in full swing. Students from colleges and universities all across Cambridge and Boston have organized under the moniker “Justice for Faisal,” holding meetings, marches and “teach-ins”—essentially sit-ins with speakers who educate the crowd on social justice topics.
One recent teach-in that I attended saw what seemed like over a hundred people occupying the ground floor of Cambridge City Hall. I could feel the power of all those people chanting and shouting for justice in unison, stomping their feet in rhythm, deep within my bones. A week or two before, a crowd of just as many people marched in the street from City Hall to the Cambridge Police Department, carrying signs, chanting and proudly hefting high images of Faisal’s smiling face. “This is what democracy looks like” indeed.
Justice for Faisal has four simple demands recited frequently at demonstrations and on flyers. First, the City of Cambridge should release the names of the officers involved in Faisal’s killing. Second, the city should release the unredacted police report of the incident. Third, all the involved officers should immediately be fired—the officer who shot Faisal is currently on administrative leave . Fourth, those officers involved should be prosecuted “to the full extent of the law.”
The meeting of these demands is what true justice looks like. It echoes what was done after the killing of Tyre Nichols. It echoes what was done after the killing of Daunte Wright. It echoes what was done after the killing of George Floyd. The fact that not a single one of these demands has been met in response to the killing of Faisal over two months ago is unconscionable. The City of Cambridge and its police department is failing its people and failing Faisal.
Now, I want to be absolutely clear and transparent about the Justice for Faisal organization. The effort is led by an organization called Party for Socialism and Liberation—an organization not without some controversy. Previous publications of PSL have skimmed over or denied some seriously horrible atrocities in China , their rhetoric is highly revolutionary  and other socialist organizations have accused them of undermining collective progress .
With that said, I have not encountered any of this sort of rhetoric from the student leaders of Justice for Faisal. In fact, they have been decidedly conscientious about their protests and demonstrations, making sure not to break any laws and ensuring the safety and cooperation of all in attendance. They have also been very transparent about PSL’s role in the movement. I believe that Justice for Faisal is a genuine, grassroots attempt at seeking justice.
So, indeed, it has been just over two months since the horrible killing of Faisal; just over two months of stonewalling, distraction and weak leadership. However, it has also been just over two months of action from students from across Boston. All those who want justice for Faisal have not been silenced. They continue to demonstrate and occupy and push for their demands to be met. Students have often been on the forefront of change, and Boston students are certainly no exception.
I really encourage readers to get involved with this fight for justice. While PSL is indeed a controversial organization—I myself have some reservations about any involvement with them—the cause is just, and the student leaders have so far demonstrated responsibility, a fair amount of transparency and solid leadership. Protests have been both powerful and responsible, and we really do need as many people as we can get to force Cambridge to meet the four demands. Anything less is unacceptable.
The best way to start being a part of this movement is to get in touch with Justice for Faisal. They don’t have a website, but they have been taping up posters with dates for demonstrations, meetings and petitions all over the school—there are quite a few Beacons on the Justice for Faisal team. They have been tabling in Campus Center recently as well. Readers can also reach out to me at James.Cerone001@umb.edu for more information.
So, come join the fight! We need to show Cambridge that they cannot just sweep this under the rug. Faisal was one of us, and we owe it to him and his family to force Cambridge into serving his killers justice.
You can find a link to the petition here.
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