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Hundreds of activists and Cambridge residents gathered Sunday for a rally at Somerville High School and a march to the Cambridge Police Department headquarters to protest the police killing of Sayed Faisal earlier this month.
The fatal shooting of Faisal — who was a 20-year student at the University of Massachusetts Boston — by Cambridge Police on Jan. 4 has sparked outrage, including several rallies, a tense community meeting, and the storming of a recent City Council meeting by protesters. The killing is currently under investigation by the Middlesex County District Attorney’s office.
The demonstration began at Somerville High School, where Faisal graduated in 2020, with protesters chanting “Justice for Faisal,” listening to speeches from organizers, and singing “We Shall Not Be Moved.” Protesters then participated in a nearly two-mile march to the CPD police station, where organizers delivered a set of demands to city officials.
The demands — addressed to Cambridge Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui, City Manager Yi-An Huang ’05, and Police Commissioner Christine A. Elow — included calls to release the names of the officers involved in Faisal’s death, and terminate and prosecute them. Protesters also demanded police demilitarization, funding for an alternative emergency response team, and reallocation of police funding towards community safety initiatives.
The names of the officers involved as well as the unredacted police report will be released following the completion of the district attorney’s investigation.
Matthew Kennedy, an organizer with the Party for Socialism and Liberation, said that he was “heartbroken” and “angry” after the killing of Faisal.
“A murder like this can’t happen again,” he said. “Cambridge needs to fully fund an alternative emergency response program separate from the police department.”
After delivering demands to the police department, organizers entered the station and asked to speak to Elow.
“They’re calling to see if Police Commissioner Christine Elow is here and if she’s brave enough to actually face her own community,” said Party for Socialism and Liberation organizer Suhail P. Purkar.
While Elow did not address protesters, the organizers left written demands at the station with the hope that they are delivered to Elow.
CPD spokesperson Jeremy C. Warnick wrote in an emailed statement that the department “will always support residents exercising their 1st amendment right to peacefully protest, demand action, and results.” Warnick added that CPD filed a report after the protest alleging that demonstrators “tagged” a memorial honoring fallen officers.
Several of Faisal’s teachers from his time at Somerville High School were present at the rally. Maria Khwaja, who taught Faisal his senior year, said that he was “so full of this beautiful, gentle light.”
“It’s my job to save these lives. That’s my job. Not kill them,” she added. “They’re not threatening. Even if they were threatening — I’ve never found a child threatening — but even if they were, it’s still my job to save them.”
Sara Halawa, an organizer with Safe Schools Somerville, also talked about Faisal’s involvement as a student at Somerville High School.
“He immediately got involved in every community organization that we have set up for immigrant youth,” Halawa said.
“This was someone who worked hard, who participated in the community,” she added. “This should not have happened.”
Some protesters also referred to the recent killing of Tyre Nichols by Memphis Police earlier this month, noting that the investigation moved faster than in Faisal’s case. The five officers involved in Nichols’ killing have been terminated by the department and charged with second-degree murder.
“That’s exactly what we need,” Purkar said. “We need for them to be fired immediately. We need for them to be in jail — not tomorrow, not next week, not in February 2024. Right now.”
—Staff writer Cam E. Kettles can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @cam_kettles.
—Staff writer Yusuf S. Mian can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @yusuf_mian2.
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