Cambridge community rallies after police killing of Sayed Faisal


Yaakov Aldrich

Sara Halawa, an organizer with Safe Schools Somerville, reads off a list of demands for justice for Sayed Faisal to the crowd. Around 200 people attended the protest on the steps of Somerville High, where Faisal was a student.

Yaakov Aldrich, news correspondent

Following the Jan. 4 fatal police shooting of Cambridge resident Arif Sayed Faisal, a group of community members and activists held a rally to mourn his passing, and to call for the city to expedite its investigation.

By early afternoon Jan. 29, around 200 people crowded around the steps of Somerville High, which Faisal had attended as a student. A sizable number of current students stood in the audience as speakers addressed the crowd. 

Faisal, a 20-year-old UMass Boston student, was shot by police after he allegedly charged at officers with a knife. According to a statement by Cambridge Police, at around 1:15 p.m., a neighbor called 911 to report a man jumping out of a window with a knife and cutting himself with it. Paramedics and police officers arrived at the scene, where a bleeding Faisal ran from police with the knife for several blocks. Despite an attempt by the officers to verbally engage Faisal, and the deployment of a less-than-lethal sponge round, he allegedly advanced toward police and was subsequently fatally shot. 

The Cambridge Police have not yet named the officer who shot Faisal, who is on paid administrative leave. Cambridge police do not wear body cameras; the only known footage of the incident is a short clip from a security camera. The city has pledged to release an unredacted police report containing the names of the officers involved after the Middlesex District Attorney Office’s investigation is complete. 

A protestor holds up a homemade sign that reads “No more killings. Abolish Police. Abolish prisons.” during the march. One group from the protest marched 2 miles to the Cambridge Police Headquarters following the speeches to deliver their list of demands. (Yaakov Aldrich)

“What we know is that we have to be slow and steady, we know that we have to be strategic, we know that we have to be family first,” said Fatema Ahmad, executive director of the Muslim Justice League, in a speech. “Those are the three things that folks are talking about around the country to move in this moment, because so many of us are tired of having our people taken from our lives, from our families, from our friends.”   

Faisal’s killing has sparked multiple rallies and protests at a Cambridge community meeting, Cambridge City Hall and an accompanying city council meeting. 

“We demand that CPD immediately release the names of the officers, fire them immediately, release the full, unredacted police reports, indict, and convict the killer cops,” Matthew Kennedy, of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, said in a speech, according to the Boston Globe. “But we’re not going to stop with just the individual killer cops. We need to change the system as a whole so murder like this can’t happen again.”

Among the other speakers at the Jan. 29 events were a mental health professional who treated Faisal before his death, a representative from the Party for Socialism and Liberation and a community activist who led the crowd in song, delivering renditions of “We Shall Overcome” and “Courage, My Friend,” in both English and Hindi. 

Energy in the crowd was high as a band played between speeches, and cars passing by the rally honked their horns. After an hour of speeches, the rally split into two groups: One group walked down to hold a vigil at the Mystic River Mural, which Faisal had helped paint as a student, and one went to deliver a list of demands to the Cambridge Police Headquarters. 

“We have been organizing for years in the greater Boston area against police brutality, for immigrants’ rights [and] justice. We organize in our communities, in our workplaces. … There’s an art and a science to it,” said Suhail Purkar, an organizer with the Party for Socialism and Liberation. “Our hopes in the immediate future is for our demands to be met, and our demands are the release of the names of the police officers who murdered Arif Sayed Faisal, for the unredacted police report, and for the officers to be fired immediately, and for them to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”

Protestors hold up painted portraits of Sayed Faisal and Tyre Nichols. A second group from the protest held a vigil after the speeches at the Mystic River Mural, which Faisal helped paint as a student. (Yaakov Aldrich)

During the 2-mile walk to police headquarters, the crowd chanted and sang continuously, as traffic built up behind the line of marchers. 

After the second round of speeches, a smaller group entered the building with their list of demands, pledging to deliver it directly to Police Commissioner Christine Elow. The crowd outside sang as they waited.

Nearly 10 minutes later, the group emerged. They had given their list of demands to an officer inside, they said, but vowed to return and speak with the commissioner directly. The crowd moved to a park nearby to disperse, chanting “We’ll be back!” until the police headquarters was out of sight. 

“Our message for Police Commissioner Christine Elow, for City Manager [Yi-ang] Huang, for Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui, and the whole of the Cambridge City Council, is that we demand justice,” Purkar said. “We demand that this never happen again. Police in America murder 1,200 people every year — this system is racist and rotten to its core and we need something completely new.” 

Editor’s note: This story was updated Feb. 13, 2023 at 10:07 a.m. to correct an inaccuracy in a photo caption.