As questions abound over the fatal police shooting of a college student earlier this month, roughly two dozen demonstrators took to Cambridge City Hall Monday evening and interrupted a City Council meeting to demand councilors release the name of the police officer who fired the deadly shot.
Sayed Faisal, a 20-year-old UMass Boston student and Cambridge resident who struggled with his mental health, was shot on Jan. 4 after he allegedly charged at an officer with a knife and ignored commands to drop the weapon, according to Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan. Cambridge police said the officer involved was placed on leave pending an investigation into the shooting by Ryan’s office, per the police department’s policy.
But at Monday’s City Council meeting, some residents demanded more answers and accountability.
Roughly one hour into the meeting, which was recorded and posted to the council website, City Manager Yi-An Huang was interrupted by a group of protesters from the Bangladesh Association of New England and the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) who were sitting in the council chambers.
“It has been two weeks since our brother Sayed Faisal was murdered by the Cambridge City Police. We still do not know the names of the officers who murdered Faisal,” said Suhail Purkar, a PSL organizer who helped lead Monday’s protest.
“Will you commit to releasing the names of the officers who murdered Sayed Faisal? Yes or no?” he asked.
At first, councilors attempted to continue, but they quickly voted to recess the meeting as the demands persisted. Holding a banner that read “JUSTICE FOR FAISAL!”, the protesters chanted, “Release the names!” and “If we don’t get it, shut it down!”
The meeting later continued over Zoom, and Purkar told the Globe that demonstrators then “peacefully entered” Cambridge Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui’s office and chanted outside her door, asking her to put pressure on police to release the unredacted police report and the names of all officers involved.
“The city manager, City Council, and the police commissioner all present themselves as progressive, that they’re different, yet the calls for transparency have basically been met with non-answers,” Purkar said in an interview Tuesday. “They say, ‘We see you, we hear you, we’re here with you.’ But when the community has very legitimate demands for transparency ... that’s not something that they’re willing to give any real answers on.”
Faisal’s death was particularly devastating for immigrant families from his home country, Bangladesh. Pervin Chowdhury, president of the Bangladesh Association of New England, said the lack of accountability is “heartbreaking for the whole community.”
“We want justice for Faisal... [but] they wouldn’t talk to us,” she said. “We always talk about human rights, but where is the human’s right today?”
Councilor Mark McGovern, who was present at Monday’s meeting, said in an interview Tuesday that although he understood and empathized with the demands of protesters, he was alarmed by what he described as an “intense” interruption of the council’s responsibilities.
“I don’t know how helpful last night was to moving the conversation along,” he said. “Obviously, this is all very emotional ... it’s tragic, and people are angry. But my hope is that people will try to remain calm while an investigation is happening, and we can support each other through this.”
McGovern said he hopes future conversations can take place at an appropriate time and place.
“There was nothing on the [Monday] agenda at all having to do with the shooting,” he said, pointing to a recent community meeting and special City Council meeting that were dedicated to hearing from residents. The council is planning to continue its special meeting on Wednesday after last week’s meeting ran 90 minutes over the scheduled time, and McGovern said he believes the upcoming conversations with city leaders will help the council create a blueprint for how best to respond to community concerns.
But many activists remain frustrated that the meetings have yielded little information from officials in the nearly three weeks since Faisal’s death.
“We presented our public comments, we presented our questions, we presented our demands” at both meetings, Purkar said. “But at the same time, we are emphasizing that they can’t have business as usual until they really give transparency and move towards justice, which means abiding by the demands of the community.”