by Hayat Imam
As a Bangladeshi American, I am still reeling from this tragedy in our community. The officer involved shooting death of a young man of 20 will have irreparable consequences. His parents, who took the chance to emigrate to the USA just a few years ago, have had their security and sustenance cut off at the knees. The community who felt pride in an aspiring young man who gracefully tackled a new language, new schools, new culture, has been left empty-handed. Most of us seeking justice for Arif Sayad Faisal have quickly understood that there is no such thing in the near future. Instead, a resolution, if there is any, is likely to take years. This is going to be exceedingly difficult for the family and friends, and those of us who are supporters, need to keep that in mind.
The District Attorney of Middlessex County explained their process at a public hearing. An inquest will be conducted by an appointed Judge to determine if a crime was committed. This closed-door process can take one to two years. During this time the public cannot receive any information, although the District Attorney will be represented, and the family can be present. At the end of the inquest, the District Attorney will receive a report, but the DA has no obligation to disclose the findings until that office has decided whether to pursue a criminal case or not. After that decision, the facts are made public. The District Attorney invited us to look up cases on their website.
In reading some of the cases of officer involved fatal shootings, what is disturbing is that all of these fatalities were of individuals undergoing mental health crises and, all but one, only had knives on them. Many of us have been anguished by the fact that Arif Sayad Faisal was shot five times in his chest, when he could have been stopped by a bullet to the hand, or another non-lethal area. What I found instead is that it is a nation-wide policy to train police to shoot at the chest and torso.
Surely, that is something that can be changed in a sane society? With all the technology and inventiveness abounding? Is the public even aware that it is our policy to shoot to kill? The stipulation is that the police have to feel they are in deadly danger before they shoot. Otherwise it is a crime. But since the inquests have not led to any police being charged with a crime (except one indictment that was overturned in Court), it appears that police, usually multiple police at an incident, all felt like they were in deadly danger from someone who is armed only with a knife, who is experiencing a mental health crisis. Who is a danger to himself, not to others.
Here is the real value of calling a trained mental health professional to calm down a person in crisis: “when we call for help, we are not calling for executions.”
Hayat Imam is a member of MAPA’s board of directors