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Cambridge community members mourn UMass Boston student fatally shot by police

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Protestors confront Cambridge city officials at a meeting to discuss the fatal police shooting of Arif Sayed Faisal. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Protestors confront Cambridge city officials at a meeting to discuss the fatal police shooting of Arif Sayed Faisal. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

City leaders and community members in Cambridge gathered in a raucous meeting Thursday to discuss the deadly police shooting of a 20-year-old UMass Boston student four days after the new year.

"This has been a really difficult week for the entire city," Cambridge Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui told hundreds of people at the meeting inside the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. School. "And I know the pain is very fresh. All of us have different grieving processes and it's important to identify the support you need to get through this challenging and confusing time."

The discussion was often punctuated by the emotional crowd, which erupted into chants of "Justice for Faisal" during the nearly four-hour meeting. Many in attendance said they were not satisfied with officials saying they could not give more details beyond the initial police reports.

Those reports said Arif Sayed Faisal was shot and killed by police on Jan. 4, as officers responded to a report that a man had jumped out of an apartment window with a knife and appeared to be cutting himself.

Cambridge police said Faisal ran several blocks through the city's Cambridgeport neighborhood for about 10 minutes carrying a knife. Investigators said officers first used a non-lethal “sponge round” on Faisal, but when Faisal refused to drop the weapon, an officer shot him.

Shortly after, Faisal was pronounced dead at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Authorities say the shooting is under investigation by the Cambridge Police Department and the Middlesex County district attorney's office.

District Attorney Marian Ryan said an independent judicial inquest will be done, in which a judge will hear testimony from all sides, issue a report and determine whether police are criminally responsible. The district attorney will then decide if the officer will be charged. Once the investigation is done, all related testimony and documents are made public on the district attorney's website.

Ryan said Middlesex County is unique in providing an independent judicial overview of police shootings. She said her office has completed three inquests since 2015 and in one case, pursued criminal charges against a police officer.

Ryan said she couldn't release more details because evidence is still being gathered and she has not discussed the investigation with Faisal's family.

"You should feel safe where you live. People want to feel safe about their children," Ryan said. "They want to know yesterday what the explanation [for the shooting] is. We're not in a position to have all that because at the same time, you want a thorough investigation."

She also acknowledged that more reforms are needed in how police respond to behavioral health calls.

"One thing that's clear is we have a problem when it comes to mental health issues," Ryan said. "We don't have a good solution. We've tried lots of different models. None of them are perfect."

Many in the audience booed when Ryan said an investigation could take several months. Former Cambridge Mayor Ken Reeves, who is now Cambridge NAACP president, urged officials to speed up the investigation and told residents to continue to press for information and reforms. Reeves said he was partnering with other community groups to work on systemic reforms.

"We're going to have the Cambridge we want," Reeves said. "That's why I spent the better part of my life in the one place in America where I didn't have to worry about being called the N-word, or where I wasn't beat up or shot up or any of those things."

At the meeting, several residents asked Cambridge officials to name the officer, who thus far, has been identified as a seven-year veteran of the Cambridge department who is now on paid administrative leave.

"The officer who killed this boy is on paid leave, maybe having margaritas in Florida," Cambridge resident Imran Baki said. "Why aren't you suspending him or firing him? It is in your power, you can do it, but you decided not to do it."

Cambridge Police Commissioner Christine Elow said officers are not identified until after an investigation is completed. Elow promised to work to restore trust between the community and police and said she is "absolutely committed to healing."

Cambridge Police Commissioner Christine Elow responds to a question at a meeting to discuss the fatal police shooting of Arif Sayed Faisal. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Cambridge Police Commissioner Christine Elow responds to a question at a meeting to discuss the fatal police shooting of Arif Sayed Faisal. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

"As an African American woman, I am committed to reform," Elow said. "Part of the reason I became a police officer is I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to build trust, particularly with communities of color, particularly with the African American community. It really is about us coming together, having these difficult conversations, being uncomfortable sometimes and doing the hard work."

Faisal, who was known as "Prince" by his family, had never been involved with law enforcement before, his parents said in a statement released by the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

“We are completely devastated and in disbelief that our son is gone,” his parents, Sayed Mujibullah and Mosammat Shaheda, said in the statement. “Prince was the most wonderful, loving, caring, generous, supportive, and deeply family-oriented person. He loved to travel, create art, and play sports with his friends.”

They buried Faisal, their only child, on Sunday.

David Fichter, a muralist in Cambridge, who had Faisal as a student in 2017, described him as "sweet" and said residents need to hold officials accountable and should demand that police wear body cameras, which they do not in Cambridge.

"Arif was a good kid — a little mischievous, but nothing that would warrant him being murdered," Ficther said. "If we don't hold these officials accountable, then nothing will change."

Sajjad Sanid, an organizer with the Bangladesh Association of New England, wrote on the group's GoFundMe page for the family that Faisal was a “bright, hardworking and studious young man who worked at CVS” while pursuing his bachelor’s degree in engineering.

On Monday, the association organized a protest in Cambridge that drew hundreds of demonstrators.

The Cambridge City Council will hold a special meeting on Jan. 18 to discuss Cambridge police protocols and training. The Cambridge Peace Commission also plans to meet with the Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association about the shooting Saturday.

Related:

Deborah Becker Twitter Host/Reporter
Deborah Becker is a senior correspondent and host at WBUR. Her reporting focuses on mental health, criminal justice and education.

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