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More than 100 protesters condemned Cambridge City Manager Yi-An Huang ’05 and other city officials during a Monday rally and teach-in at City Hall for not releasing the names of officers involved in the January police killing of Sayed Faisal.
Organized by the Party for Socialism and Liberation, the protest at City Hall attracted Boston-area residents, including local teachers and students, as the latest demonstration in a nearly two-month campaign by activists to demand accountability from Cambridge officials.
Faisal, a 20-year-old Cambridge resident and Bangladeshi American college student, was fatally shot by a Cambridge Police Department officer on Jan. 4 after officers responded to a 911 report of a man harming himself, according to a Cambridge Police press release. After a five-block chase through Cambridgeport, officers confronted Faisal, who allegedly approached them wielding a knife. When a non-lethal sponge round did not stop Faisal, a CPD officer shot and killed him.
Crowding the first floor and main staircase of City Hall, protesters reiterated their demands to city officials, including releasing the names of officers involved in Faisal’s shooting and prosecuting them. The city has “been ignoring the community’s calls for transparency and justice,” said Rafeya V. Raquib, an organizer with the PSL.
“The police who are paid with our tax dollars and are allowed to shoot people dead in the streets without facing any immediate consequences apparently deserve the right to privacy during the investigation,” Raquib said.
Cambridge Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui wrote in a Thursday statement that “our charter grants the City Manager power over the Police Department as well as oversight of personnel matters,” but added she supports the release of the officer’s names.
“I personally believe this is an important step for the sake of transparency, but a statement released last week made clear the City will not do so,” Siddiqui wrote.
Statements from Huang and CPD Commissioner Christine A. Elow released last week reiterated city officials’ plans to release the names after the conclusion of the Middlesex District Attorney’s inquest into the shooting.
PSL organizer Suhail P. Purkar called Cambridge’s government “an undemocratic mess.” Purkar, along with other demonstrators, took aim at Huang, criticizing him and other city officials for their handling of Cambridge’s response to Faisal’s death.
Under Cambridge’s Plan E Charter, the city is run under a council-manager form of government, giving Huang control over the city’s daily operations and preparation of the budget.
In an emailed statement following Monday’s council meeting, Huang wrote that he remains “committed to being accessible and accountable” to Cambridge residents.
“Since the tragic death of Sayed Faisal, I have been in regular conversation with the Mayor, Vice Mayor, and Councilors as we have worked to chart a path forward together, including implementing body cameras, alternate response, and a third-party review,” Huang wrote.
In a city press release last week, Huang wrote the city is moving forward with a plan to implement body cameras, as well as other accountability measures.
Purkar said the city’s current charter deprives Cambridge residents of accountability in city government.
“We’ve seen that the city manager has the freedom to pick and choose what policies get enforced with no accountability,” Raquib said.
During the teach-in at City Hall, organizers led attendees through songs and chants about activist leaders and spoke on the history of student organizing, the civil rights movement, and the origins of policing.
Raquib said organizers would need to continue pushing to hold Cambridge officials accountable.
“We cannot let city officials continue to try to deflect blame and appease the public with empty words of condolences and blanket commitments,” she added.
On March 13, Boston-area college students will seek to occupy City Hall to continue protesting the police shooting of Faisal, after two weeks of outreach and preparation at local universities.
“If we don’t fight, it’s going to be stopped, and it’s going to be going under the rug,” said Bangladesh Association of New England President Pervin A. Chowdhury during the teach-in.
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