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Confused and frustrated Cambridge residents confronted city officials at a tense public meeting Thursday in response to the police shooting of 20-year-old Sayed Faisal.
Attendees loudly spoke over, booed, and questioned Cambridge Peace Commission Executive Director Brian Corr, Cambridge City Manager Yi-An Huang ’05, Police Commissioner Christine A. Elow, and District Attorney Marian T. Ryan about Cambridge Police practices, the ongoing investigation of Faisal’s death, and the name and paid leave status of the officer who opened fire on Faisal.
Faisal, a Cambridge resident and student at the University of Massachusetts Boston, was fatally shot last Wednesday by a CPD officer when the department said they responded to a 911 call. According to a Jan 4. CPD press release, the caller reported that a man had jumped out of a window and was harming himself. After a foot chase, Faisal allegedly moved toward officers wielding a knife, and when a “less-than-lethal sponge round” failed to stop him, the officer shot him.
Faisal’s death has sparked international outcry and protests throughout Cambridge, with some alleging racism and police brutality.
The meeting, held at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. School in Cambridge, ran over by more than 40 minutes as residents shared personal stories about confrontations with CPD and activists called for defunding or abolishing the department.
Corr, who facilitated the event on behalf of the city, attempted to bring the packed auditorium to order with little success.
“When you have a community meeting, the community is who runs the meeting,” said Kenneth E. Reeves ’72, an audience member who previously served as Cambridge’s mayor and currently serves as the NAACP Cambridge president.
“The NAACP — we’re watching,” he added.
During the meeting, Ryan explained the lengthy investigative process, but told attendees she couldn’t provide a date for when the investigation is expected to conclude.
Elow reiterated that the officer involved will be on paid leave as the investigation is underway, to the dismay of audience members.
Fatema Ahmad, who is the executive director of the Muslim Justice League, was among several attendees who expressed concerns with the decision to put the officer on paid leave.
“It is unclear to me as an expert reading through the Cambridge Police contract why exactly the officer would be on paid leave instead of being actually suspended,” said Ahmad, who spoke at a Monday protest. “How long will this officer be on paid leave while this investigation happens — because you’re saying it will take a long time.”
Pervin A. Chowdhury, president of the Bangladesh Association of New England, questioned why the police officer who shot Faisal had not been dismissed by the department.
“When I do something wrong at my work, they’re gonna fire me,” she said.
Several attendees, including Ahmad, expressed concern with CPD’s involvement with the District Attorney’s investigation.
Throughout the meeting, audience members were divided on the subject of body cameras, with some calling for their implementation and others citing privacy concerns. Unlike Boston and Somerville, CPD officers have not adopted the practice, though Elow has previously discussed their possible use.
Chowdhury supported the use of body cameras and called on the department to hasten its investigation so officers “can’t hide” the facts “so we can forget about it.”
CPD spokesperson Jeremy C. Warnick did not immediately respond to a request for comment on protesters’ criticisms.
Attendees also pressed officials on how the city is supporting Faisal’s family. A GoFundMe following Faisal’s death has raised more than $53,000 from residents and other supporters as of Thursday night.
Huang told the audience that Cambridge is “mourning with you,” which was met with jeers and cries of “bullshit” from some attendees.
“It may seem like the city is run by people who are not like the people in this room, but the city is run by people who are like you in this room,” Huang added.
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