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February 26, 2024
An inside look at Bobby B. Beacon’s insides. Illustrated by Bianca Oppedisano/ Mass Media Staff.
Bobby's Inside Story
February 26, 2024

Cambridge City Manager Huang is a coward who doesn’t care about Sayed Arif Faisal


Students attending the Rally for Sayed Faisal in Cambridge. Photo courtesy of James Cerone/ Mass Media Staff.  

Tuesday, March 21 was the day I learned the man at the helm of the City of Cambridge is a coward. It was the day I learned he doesn’t care that a 19-year-old student was killed by police during a mental health crisis in his town. It was also the day I woke up to how crucial, progressive policies can be wielded as distractions against justice in the wake of tragedy.
You see, after months of constant protesting, City Manager Yi-An Huang finally agreed to meet with members of the Boston branch of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, student leaders and other community members who have been leading the effort to get justice for Sayed Arif Faisal [1]. Last Tuesday was the date for the meeting; Elizabeth Speakman—interim director of the Public Safety Department—was also there [1].
It was about time, to say the least, although nobody held out much hope for the meeting. The plan was rock-solid and, according to a PSL press release, the talking points were simple—meet the movements four demands: 1) release the names of the officers involved; 2) release the unredacted police report; 3) immediately fire the officers involved; and 4) prosecute the officers to the full extent of the law [1].
While the meeting labored on inside the Cambridge City Hall Annex, a rally was in full gear outside. We marched around in a circle, chanting and shouting, demanding that our voices be heard. The organizers had canceled an overnight sleep-in at the city hall in respectful response to City Manager Huang agreeing to meet with them, but we weren’t about to go away entirely.
The rally was powerful as always, but things really reached a new peak when the negotiation team finally walked down the steps and out the doors into the crowd. A roar of pure elation and deep appreciation drowned out all other noise. The students were patted on the back, hugged and handed food as one of them stepped up onto a low wall, lifting a megaphone to his beaming face.
The news he relayed was decidedly less revelatory than the celebration of these amazing activists. Huang had stonewalled them, refusing to meet even a single one of the public’s demands. Evidently, he wanted to speak about long-term, big-picture changes to the policing system in Cambridge and not the very clear, immediate steps to get justice for Faisal.
Now, I want to be absolutely clear, we need serious changes to policing everywhere in this country. The fact that the City of Cambridge is beginning to take steps to do so is undoubtedly a good thing. One of the best examples is the Cambridge Holistic Emergency Alternative Response Team—an exciting, police alternative based on empathy and compassion [2]. They have been approved and funded and will be operational soon, according to Cambridge HEART members I have spoken to.
These are not the issues that Justice for Faisal is concerned with at this moment. We can talk about body cams. We can talk about third-party reviews. We can talk about policing alternatives. These things cannot distract us from the current priority—getting justice for a 19-year-old student who was his parents only child…and getting his family the answers they need.
PSL organizer and MIT student Susanna Chen said, “the city acted as if the meeting was a replacement for any meaningful progress on the demands of our movement” [1]. I think this is a good assessment of what’s going on. The City of Cambridge is clearly trying to protect these officers and hide something in the police reports, and they’re using overtures about future change to distract us from that fact.
According to a PSL press release, Huang insisted they have discovered “no egregious conduct” on behalf of the police. Faisal was killed during a mental health crisis—evidently, the only person he was harming was himself [4], as surveillance video has also backed up [5]. Police say he approached them with a knife, but the only existing video shows him running away.
How is killing him not egregious conduct? They apparently used non-lethal rounds first, but if he was only a danger to himself, why did they switch to deadly force? And even if he did approach them, you cannot tell me that a non-lethal round wouldn’t at least be enough to keep him at safe range.
In this press release, Huang also said the police officers involved have a “right to privacy” [3]; but apparently, he doesn’t think that Faisal’s family has a right to know—or even deserves to know—who killed their only son.
Probably the most egregious—and I use that word purposefully—comment from Huang was his supposed admission to the negotiation team that he had been “advised” to simply ignore the protests until they eventually went away. Evidently, Huang thinks that this meeting was a great gesture of courtesy, and we should be thankful for his pitiful overtures.
I think this is absolutely unbelievable. The unelected Cambridge City Manager—who by the way is the real chief executive of the city, not the elected mayor [6]—is openly exerting his dictatorial power not to serve justice, but to cover up the horrific conduct of his police department and outright ignore calls for justice.
Does Yi-An Huang have no empathy? Through his actions—and lack of action—he has repeatedly demonstrated how little he cares about the killing of a 19-year-old student, friend and only child during a serious mental health crisis. He has demonstrated a complete callousness to the fact that Faisal was in desperate need of help, but instead got bullets. He has shown that he does not care a single bit about the well-being of Faisal’s family.
I’m absolutely disgusted by Huang, and also by the entire City of Cambridge government. Cambridge City Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui has said that she supports releasing the names of the officers involved in Faisal’s killing but has apparently chosen to defer to the uncooperative city manager.
Let’s think about this for a second. The elected mayor of Cambridge wants to release the names of the officers who killed a 19-year-old student during a mental health crisis, but the unelected city manager says no…so the elected mayor gives up.
Does this sound like Cambridge is a democracy? I feel like we are living in the Twilight Zone here.
Last week, I attended and spoke at a teach-in and memorial for Faisal. During the memorial, Mayor Siddiqui sat behind me. As members of Faisal’s family spoke about the pain of not knowing what really happened that day, I kept looking over at her. She seemed uncomfortable, to say the least.
So, what can we do? Well, Huang has pretty much challenged us to keep the pressure on, so that’s what we’ve got to do. Justice for Faisal is still active. In fact, a meeting is being held this Wednesday, April 5 at 5:30 p.m. in Room 1300 on the first floor of University Hall to discuss future actions. I really encourage everybody to attend and find out how they can participate.
If you live in Cambridge, you can also write to your city councilors and mayor. I mean write to them every week and get your friends and family to do the same. Not only can you encourage your representatives and elected officials to meet the four demands, but the city manager, though unelected, can indeed be removed by the city government [6]. If they see that Huang is not serving the will of the people, maybe they will take some serious action, one way or another.
Suffice it to say that we are not going away. We accept Huang’s challenge. We will get justice for Faisal and his family, Huang be damned. I hope you’ll join us too.

About the Contributor
James Cerone, Opinions Editor