Hundreds rally for answers over fatal police killing of Arif Sayed Faisal


Maddie Barron

Cambridge City Hall displaying a Black Lives Matter banner next to an American flag, before signs of protest.

By Maddie Barron, Magazine Editor & Assistant Opinion Editor

College students across the Greater Boston area met Monday night on the steps of Cambridge City Hall as part of a coalition seeking justice from the deadly Cambridge police shooting of 20-year-old Arif Sayed Faisal. 

Faisal was a Bangladeshi immigrant studying computer science at the University of Massachusetts Boston. 

The coalition, organized by the Bangladesh Association of New England and the Party of Socialism and Liberation, gathered students from UMass Boston, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston University, Harvard University, Tufts University, and Emerson College to rally against the city’s lack of transparency regarding the events surrounding Faisal’s death—citing a redacted police report that does not reveal the names of the officers involved in the fatal shooting. 

A timeline provided by the Cambridge Police Department states that on Jan. 4, a Cambridgeport resident called 911, claiming to have seen a man jumping out of an apartment building window carrying a machete. 

Officers pursued the man on foot, later identified as Faisal, holding a kukri knife and broken window glass. Faisal was shirtless and allegedly cutting himself with the knife and glass in what organizers claimed to be a mental health crisis. 

“[CPD] released the statement…painting [Faisal] as a criminal when he was having a mental health crisis,” said Rafeya Raquib, rally organizer with the Party of Socialism and Liberation and Boston University alumna.

According to the CPD report, the chase went on for several minutes down Chestnut Street until Faisal, reportedly still holding the knife, began to pursue officers who requested he put the weapon down. 

Faisal allegedly moved toward officers and they discharged a “less-than-lethal” sponge round to de-escalate the situation, according to Middlesex County District Attorney Marian Ryan in a press conference

A surveillance video obtained from an undisclosed local business on Chestnut Street by WCVB, Boston reporter Mary Saladna shows Faisal running away from pursuing officers holding what appeared to be the kukri knife to his neck. 

The footage is time stamped at 1:31 p.m., but no official statement has been made as to the exact time Faisal allegedly began pursuing officers or when he was shot. 

Footage of the events leading to Faisal’s death is nonexistent, as CPD officers do not wear body cameras. In an interview with The Boston Globe in 2020, Cambridge City Councilor Marc McGovern said city council members were interested in taking steps to provide officers with body cameras. When the city manager—the only person able to allocate funding—did not pursue it, such steps were never taken. 

“It was something that fell off the to-do list,” McGovern told the Globe. 

Ryan said that the sponge round did not stop Faisal from advancing and he was shot by an officer on scene. Ryan was unable to confirm how many times the weapon was discharged amidst witness reports of multiple gunshots heard in the area. 

Faisal was provided on-scene medical care and transported to Massachusetts General Hospital, where he later died of his injuries. 

Forty days after his murder, officials have not provided the community with answers. Organizers carried a large sign displaying a list of four demands: release the names of the officers involved in Faisal’s death, release the unredacted police report, fire the officers involved in Faisal’s death, and prosecute the officers involved in Faisal’s death. 

In a Jan. 18 city council meeting, Cambridge Police Commissioner Christine Elow said there is no explicit protocol for releasing the officer’s names. 

“It’s not a policy that is in writing,” Elow said. “It has been past practice not to release names. There is no uniform, agreed upon standard.” 

In the press conference, Ryan emphasized that the investigation into Faisal’s murder is in preliminary stages. She declined to confirm the identity of the officer who shot him, but said he had an estimated seven years on the force and was placed on paid leave for the duration of the investigation. 

Raquib said in an interview with the Beacon that student involvement in this movement is critical. She referred to a statement made by Barbara J. Dougan, Faisal’s family legal counsel, at a Jan. 9 rally, which said it may take until 2024 for an inquest to explain what happened leading to Faisal’s death. 

“In a year, people will forget about it and they won’t be held accountable,” Raquib said. 

Safiyyah, a junior at MIT who declined to provide their last name, thinks lack of acknowledgement from city and university officials is a larger issue of ignoring internal problems because of their proximity. 

“[MIT] just hopes that students will graduate out of these movements and that they’ll fizzle out once [students] cycle out every four years,” Safiyyah said. 

Since Faisal’s murder, the coalition has attended every Wednesday city council meeting, community meeting, and special committee meeting to demand answers. 

A community forum is scheduled for Feb. 16 at 5:30 p.m. to connect students across universities in the area who want to take action and join the coalition. 

“This is an issue that affects all students, everyone in the community, and we want to get students plugged in [and] empowered,” Raquib said.

“Today’s demonstration is just the beginning,” wrote The Bangladesh Association of New England on Jan. 9, “as a community we will be united and fight hand in hand to get justice.”

UMass Boston student Jack Pierce said in a speech to the crowd, “It is..on us not to simply stand by and let the city and the police department wait for the movement to pass. We’re going to grow in numbers.”

“It’s not one school, it’s all of us,” he said, prompting cheers from protesters below. 

A “Black Lives Matter” banner displayed on Cambridge City Hall was cruel irony against the dozens of signs from the crowd protesting city officials, reading “justice for all victims of racist police terror” and “jail all racist killer cops”. 

The coalition is seeking to address how officers are trained to de-escalate mental health crises like Faisal’s and potentially provide alternatives, like trained mental health counselors. 

“Everything from mental health crises to traffic violations are met with armed police who have the authority to kill with impunity,” said Matthew, another organizer with the Party for Socialism and Liberation and alumna of Boston University, in a speech to the crowd. 

Matthew advocated for reforms that would bring the appropriate professionals to various emergency situations.

“Regardless of whether he was holding anything,” Raquib said, “[Faisal] shouldn’t have gotten shot and killed.”

The crowd of over 200 people transitioned from the steps of Cambridge City Hall to the streets, marching just under a mile and a half to the Cambridge Police Department. 

The lights of the surrounding CPD vehicles illuminated hand-painted portraits of Faisal in alternating blues and reds, a mirror of what he saw on Jan. 4.