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Sayed Arif Faisal was one of us

Image+of+Boston+Police+car.+From+Flickr%26%23160%3B%26%23160%3B
Image of Boston Police car. From Flickr.

I’m sure many of you will know by now that, on Jan. 4, we lost one of our fellow students. An email from the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and the Interim Dean of Students, Karen Ferrer-Muñiz, was sent out to all faculty and students, notifying us of the “passing” of Sayed Arif Faisal. The email was essentially a cookie-cutter spiel, barely different from any other similar email that I have received since I came to UMass Boston. Some links to mental health services were included. No details were given.
We need to get one thing straight. Sayed Arif Faisal did not “pass.” Sayed was killed by police during a mental health crisis, in broad daylight in Cambridge [1,2]. This is a real, heart-wrenching nightmare. “Imagine losing your only child due to senseless police brutality. Imagine that,” his family’s GoFundMe reads. “Imagine that.” [3]
Imagine this too: A student goes to a university that is supposedly “dedicated to rigorous, open, critical inquiry;” seeks to “help to create sustainable and healthy social fabrics, economies, service organizations and civic and cultural institutions;” [4] and repeatedly refers to itself as “anti-racist and health promoting” and “For The Times.” This student is then killed by police while experiencing a serious mental health crisis in the neighboring town. The university then decides to send a Hallmark card email that glosses over all the details, and refuses to connect the larger trends and forces at work in the university’s local community or the programs the school runs that are supposed to confront such issues.
The fact that we had to find out what actually happened to Sayed through the news, after receiving an explicit notice of the incident by our own administration, is disgusting. What an absolute lack of progressive foresight and, in the words of another concerned party, lack of leadership. The real kicker is that Chancellor Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, who pushed the email off to his vice chancellor and has not said a word about this to the student population—and possibly faculty—in any professional capacity, privately donated $1,000 to the Faisal family’s GoFundMe. That proves this is not a simple lack of understanding on his part [2]. It’s just gross, but unfortunately, I have come to expect as much from them.
So, let’s do what the administration has failed to do, and actually confront this absolute tragedy.
There are conflicting reports of what happened, of course. Police say they fired a “sponge round” [5]—which is a less-than-lethal projectile similar to a rubber bullet [4]—when Sayed did not drop a large knife that he had supposedly been harming himself with after being told to drop it [3]. This much is agreed upon.
What’s not agreed upon is as follows. The Cambridge Police Department says that Sayed was initially approaching them with the knife before and after being hit by the sponge round—their supposed justification for lethally shooting Sayed [1]. Yet his GoFundMe page, which was written by Sajjad Sanid of the Bangladesh Association of New England, states that a video of the incident and an eyewitness report show that Sayed was in fact running away from police before and after being shot [2].
Obviously, this is a complete failure of training on its face, and really a glaring example of why police should not habitually be the first responders to mental health crises. Possibly, we have a case of racial disparity where police are more willing to lethally shoot a running person of color; arguments could be made either way. But Cambridge—and surely Boston as well—clearly still has major issues with its policing.
At the end of the day, though, Sayed should not have been an ‘example’ at all. We have already had enough “examples;” enough dead fathers, mothers, siblings, lovers, students and more. When are we going to learn? These sorts of patently unjustified, extrajudicial executions by incompetent and out-and-out racist police have the same status as mass shootings nowadays—constantly reoccurring calamities that we as a society, disturbingly, have come to expect and accept. In the wake of the shooting in Monterey Park, this has become ever clearer.
The way these events are framed is disgusting as well. Our own university has described an unjustified, extrajudicial execution of a fellow Beacon as a “passing”. Boston 25 News has a headline describing Sayed—whom family members affectionately called “Prince,” and whom they described as a “wonderful, loving, caring, generous, supportive, and deeply family-oriented person” who “expressed his feelings through gifts” [6]—as a “20-year-old man armed with ‘kukri knife.’” Are you kidding me?
It’s all too much to take in without feeling immense sadness and anger.
You know, every time I see a picture of Sayed, I find myself profoundly disquieted. I don’t know if I ever attended UMass Boston alongside him, but I just cannot shake the feeling that I have seen him around campus before. He looks so darn familiar, and the thought that I attended class, ate lunch across from or took the shuttle next to a student who would be shot and killed by police during a mental health crisis just a year or less later is sickening.
But really, it doesn’t matter if I knew him or not. Perhaps the true reason I feel like I recognize him is because I see something familiar in his face. Maybe I see the faces of thousands of fellow Beacons in Sayed. Maybe I see the wonderful, luxurious pompadour that so many young students of South Asian descent wear proudly through the halls of our university. Possibly, I see the diversity of wonderful personalities that fill our classrooms and clubs in the way that his smiles look like frowns, yet are somehow read as unmistakably wide grins with eyes that burst with joy.
What I really wish I saw, however, is a 20-year-old kid who was not failed by his university both in life—possibly—and in death. Was there something about his time here that drove his mental illness to such extremes? Was he alienated? Bullied? Were our mental health services not enough? In death, why is the university administration sweeping this all under the rug, ignoring reality, disrespecting his memory and failing to both lead and act?
Sayed Arif Faisal was one of us. What happened to him could happen to many, if not any, of us. And the disgusting treatment that he received after his death should be an affront to every single one of us.
If you’d like to help out, please check out “Support Arif Sayed Faisal’s Family” on GoFundMe—his name is sometimes written in this order—and donate if you can. Keep an eye out for “Justice for Sayed Faisal” events through social media too, and even attend council meetings and other such public forums to make your voice heard on the matter. Talk about this with your friends, classmates and professors. Say his name. Let everyone know that Sayed was one of us.
[1]https://www.boston25news.com/news/local/da-20-year-old-man-armed-with-kukri-knife-cambridge-was-shot-killed-by-police-after-chase/YDVSMW5V6FFLFN6XIC7VDZJRBY/
[2]https://www.umb.edu/the_university/mission_values
[3]https://www.gofundme.com/f/Support-Sayed-Arif-Faisals-Family
[4]https://www.wbur.org/news/2023/01/13/cambridge-arif-sayed-faisal-police-shooting-community-mourns
[5]https://www.defense-technology.com/product/exact-impact-40-mm-standard-range-sponge-round/
[6]https://www.boston25news.com/news/local/family-20-year-old-college-student-who-was-shot-killed-by-cambridge-police-issued-statement/Q6TX4KOAGFFUFA6SKJTSY7UDCA/

About the Contributor
James Cerone, Opinions Editor