By OSCAR ECHEVERIA
Arif Sayed Faisal, 20, a junior at U. Mass. Boston, moved to the region from Bangladesh about seven or eight years ago, the only child to his family. He was a son, a student, a friend to many, and a local CVS clerk. He was endearingly known to his family as “The Prince,” and described by the community as a smart, kind, and considerate young man. On Jan. 4, he was shot and killed by Cambridge police during a mental health crisis.
According to a Cambridge police report released the day of the murder, Faisal was self-harming with a piece of broken window glass and a knife in an alleyway. Allegedly, after being spotted by police, he ran through a Cambridgeport neighborhood. Recently released surveillance footage shows Faisal holding the knife up to his own neck when running up Chestnut Street with police following behind. When he finally stopped and turned to approach police, they reported asking him to drop the knife before shooting him with a “less-than-lethal sponge round.” The sponge round was followed by live gunshots, fatally wounding Faisal in the street.
“That [sponge] round was unsuccessful in stopping Faisal,” says the report, continuing, “He continued to advance towards officers in possession of the weapon. One officer discharged [their] department-issued firearm and struck Faisal. He was immediately rendered medical aid on the scene by officers until EMS arrived.”
In much of the world, people—including police officers—would find it completely absurd that police would respond to an obvious mental health crisis with a shoot-first strategy. Socialist Resurgence, one of the predecessors of the unified Workers’ Voice, made this point after the police murder of 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant in Columbus, Ohio, in 2021.
The SR article stated: “While knife-wielders in the UK are very rarely killed by police, and most cops there do not carry guns, the “sharp object”-based homicide rate is lower than in the U.S. In fact, the whole strategy of confronting knife-wielders is different. As Brian Paddick, ex-deputy assistant commissioner of London’s Metropolitan Police, explained in 2015, “There are alternatives to shooting someone armed with a knife. … If someone’s life is in danger there is the option to use CS spray or batons. All officers are equipped with stab-proof vests. If someone has gone berserk and they are in possession of a knife, officers have a duty to try to contain them to make sure they do not escape, in which case they would try to use CS spray and batons. Of course, the UK police are no paragons of non-violence, but the comparison shows that responsibility for Bryant’s death lies at the feet of the CPD.”
Two years later and hundreds of miles away, this tragedy has been repeated, although the acronyms of the police department might be slightly different.
The mayor of Cambridge was heckled during a public statement on the shooting on Jan. 13. The crowd chanted “Justice for Faisal” and demanded to know the identity of the killer officer. The community suspects a seven-year veteran of the Cambridge department, who is now on paid administrative leave. Demands from activists on the city include:
- Release the officers‘ names
- Release the unredacted police report
- Fire the officer who murdered Faisal immediately
- Prosecute the officer who murdered Faisal to the full extent of the law
The Bangladesh Association of New England (BANE) has taken the lead in building a movement for justice for Faisal. Since the murder, BANE has been organizing door-knocking campaigns to raise awareness in the community and organizing multiple demonstrations. Hundreds mobilized on Jan. 9, 11, 14, 21, and 29. In between, fighters for Justice for Faisal organized vigils, interventions into local political meetings, and a virtual speak-out with the Muslim Justice League. Speakers have included friends and family members as well as community members including Faisal’s high school English teacher. As of Saturday, Feb. 4, more than $70,000 had been donated to the fundraiser in his honor.
As history shows, police reforms are false solutions to a much deeper systematic problem. An important example is the 2014 murder of Michael Brown by Ferguson Police. Despite the city’s police department having recently adopted a new use-of-force policy to “limit” the use of deadly force, officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Brown while he ran away. This incident sparked a national outcry and led to protests around the country, many of which were severely attacked by the police.
The truth is that police are the violent enforcers of the ruling class in the United States. They represent the property owners and bosses and maintain all of the various systems of oppression used to divide, control, and super-exploit the working class. In the wake of criticism and the mass mobilizations of 2020, police departments have become more militarized, as both capitalist parties lean more and more on violent policing to enforce greater austerity on workers and oppressed peoples.
The mobilizations calling for justice for George Floyd, Tyre Irving, and to Stop Cop City show that we are not outnumbered—merely out organized. The movements against police violence can take valuable lessons from the example of BANE and organizers throughout Massachusetts in building broad, community-based struggles against state murders. Those local examples can be connected through nationwide organizations, independent of the Democratic and Republican parties and connected with the developing union movement, to build a force that can realize the slogan “If we don’t get it? Shut it down!”
A Justice for Faisal demonstration organized by the Boston South Asian Coalition has been called for 1:30 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 5, at the Town Hall in Arlington, Mass. Workers’ Voice encourages our readers in the area to attend and give solidarity to the movement!
Justice for Arif Sayed Faisal! Justice for Humanity! We Can Win, We Will Win!