In Cambridge MA, where BLM protestors have been demonstrating since the 2020 police killing of George Floyd, more protests over police shooting of a Bangladeshi student

Police shootings in the USA claim over a thousand lives a year, with many going unreported, and 2021, the year after George Floyd’s murder, recorded as one of the deadliest years on record. A disproportionate number of those killed in such incidents are persons of colour.

The summer of 2020 saw massive Black Lives Matter protests across the USA. Although these protests have largely died down, a small group has continued to demonstrate in Cambridge MA, standing at the corner of Prospect and Broadway streets every Friday afternoon. No media outlet has picked up the story of these peaceful demonstrators holding up BLM signs, including: ‘All lives matter but not all lives are threatened with racist violence’.

In Spring 2022, one of my students at Emerson College did a video report on these Stand-outers as they call themselves. It includes comments from two of the group’s members, retired pediatrician Dr. Alan Meyers and history professor Dr. Tom Johnson (erroneously mentioned as Robinson in the video) on why they continue demonstrating. Report below, shared with the student’s permission:

Video by Maddie Khaw, Digital Journalism, Emerson College, Spring 2022.

On 4 January 2022, responding to a 911 emergency call, Cambridge police shot dead a 20-year old student of Bangladeshi origin, his parents’ only child, a student at UMass Boston.

Syed Arif Faisal was not waving a machete as reported, nor was he threatening anyone. He had a knife in one hand, a book in the other, was running barefoot and shirtless that cold Wednesday afternoon, apparently having a mental health breakdown. The last fatal officer-involved shooting here took place 20 years in 2002, reports the Harvard Crimson.

Surveillance footage shows the police chasing him. Shortly afterwards, he was dead, with five bullets in his chest.

Tragically for far too many people, police in the USA are trained to “shoot at the center mass” rather than extremities like police in Europe or UK, says a former cops reporter who I met at the Media Transformation Challenge, Poynter Institute, where we are both Fellows this year.

Police are also not equipped to deal with mental health, a major issue that surfaces with people of color. Of the 65 people fatally shot by police in Massachusetts between 2005 and 2015, nearly half were suicidal or exhibited signs of mental illness, according to a 2016 investigation by the Boston Globe’s Spotlight Team.

In 2016, Hope Coleman in Dorchester, Boston, called 911 for an ambulance to take her son Terence Coleman, 31, to hospital after he had a mental health breakdown. At a #JusticeforFaisal demonstration at Harvard Square on Saturday,14 January, she shared how police burst into her Dorchester apartment and fired two shots at Terence, killing him on the spot.

She has filed a federal lawsuit seeking to change the protocols for how 911 calls relating to mental illness are handled and how first responders deal with people with such illnesses.

‘Remove police from mental health crisis response’ is one of the main demands of protestors #JusticeforFaisal. Photo: Beena Sarwar

Despite the freezing temperatures, dozens turned up at the Harvard Square demonstration on Saturday called by the Bangladesh Association of New England (BANE). See video at this link on Facebook.

Faisal’s Pakistan-origin high school English teacher at Somerville, Dr Maria Khwaja spoke movingly of the bond they shared as Southasians, and the kind of a student he was – thoughtful, and beloved. Flagging the adolescent mental health crisis in the country, particularly due to the Covid-19 pandemic, she says she “thought he would be okay” (about 24 min into the video).

The Boston South Asia Coalition (BSAC) is among the many organisations calling for police accountability and transparency in the investigation. BSAC’s Shariq Purkar spoke about 30 min. into the rally, reiterating these demands.

Many activists are trying to get Cambridge city, headed by Pakistan-origin mayor Sumbul Siddiqui, to name the police officers involved and release the police report.

“If someone commits an act of violence against an individual or community, their name will appear in the papers,” they say. “So why should police officers’ identities be protected?”

They also say that the community has a right to know who the officers were. “Sometimes when an offending officer’s name is revealed, we find that he has been involved in other such incidents before. So it helps provide context,” notes one organiser.

Another rally calling for #JusticeforFaisal will take place Sunday 29 January afternoon at his alma mater Somerville High School followed by a vigil at the Cambridge Police Station.

I’m reminded also of the British documentary Injustice by Ken Fero. And the PTM movement in Pakistan that was catalysed by a police killing.

Updated poster for the upcoming rally and vigil, now ending at the Cambridge Police Station

UPDATE: The Sunday vigil will now end at the Cambridge Police Station and not the Mystic Mural as earlier stated.

2 Responses

  1. I have seen firsthand the plight of mentally ill. Not just as a psychiatrist but as a father who lost his brilliant son because of the laws that were formulated to protect patients but are used to deprive them of treatment. We as a society believe in solving problems through violence. This is just one horror story but I know many tragic stories that media didn’t pick up.


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