Activists say officers should not have shot knife-wielding student who ignored their calls for him to stop
Activists continue to call for the firing of a police officer who fatally shot a knife-wielding University of Massachusetts student, even though a judge cleared the cop of wrongdoing.
Cambridge Police Department officer Liam McMahon made “objectively reasonable” decisions when he pursued and eventually killed student Sayed Faisal in January, according to the conclusions of a recent inquiry.
That does not matter to his opponents.
“What does it say about the law that a police officer can kill a student in broad daylight, and that’s something that is considered universally all right,” Suhail Purkar, with the Party for Socialism and Liberation, told The Crimson. The Harvard University student newspaper notes Purkar wants “police abolition.”
City Councilor Quinton Zondervan shared similar thoughts. “As long as the police are armed and legally protected, they will continue to shoot to kill,” he said. “The response to a distraught person with a knife cannot be a cop with a gun.”
Others have previously said this proves the need for better community health investments and for alternative emergency responses. “Sayed Faisal should have received help, not a bullet,” The Crimson editorial board opined in February.
It is tragic any time someone dies, and thinking of people I know who may have mental illness problems or special needs, it certainly would cause me grief if one of those people was acting erratically and a police officer shot them.
But it is not reasonable to expect a social worker to stop a “frantic” knife-wielding male student who is not responding to officer commands to stand down and is not being stopped with non-lethal rounds.
Sometimes in these situations it helps to emotionally mourn the loss of human life while also thinking logically about the feasibility of alternative options.
One response could be that police officers could have tried to swarm Faisal and restrain him on the ground. But when officers do that, crowds gather and edited videos quickly circulate and put more pressure on law enforcement.
Another is to use unarmed social workers or other mental health professionals to respond to these calls. The city has been working on an alternative response team.
But let’s think this through. So Faisal had jumped out of a window and was holding a knife and appeared to be harming himself.
He ignored police officer commands, fled from police and a non-lethal round did not stop him. What specifically would an unarmed, likely small female social worker, do in that situation? There is no guarantee by the time she arrived at the scene that he would not have harmed innocent bystanders.
Even then, he clearly was not in the right mental state. “Talk therapy” would not have done much good.
I mourn for Faisal’s family, and particularly for his parents, who lost their son.
But police abolition or thinking unarmed social workers could stop an erratic, possibly suicidal, knife-wielding male is an illogical and dangerous response for a tragic situation.
IMAGE: Bangladesh Association of New England/Facebook