Writing for Relief: Why do we leave our communities to pick up the pieces of their own tragedies?
On January 4th, Arif Sayed Faisal was shot by police in Cambridge. He was a 20-year-old Bangladeshi UMASS Boston Student. The officers involved claim that Faisal made threatening advances towards them with a knife and that they were unable to de-escalate the situation properly before being forced to shoot him.
This is about the only official communication, besides a statement posted on cambridgema.gov, that actually addresses Faisal’s killing. In fact, the front page of the Cambridge town government’s website does not hold any news links dedicated to Faisal or the investigation into the conduct of Cambridge police taking place. It’s a terrible truth that our country, at large, still upholds a system which values the lives of People of Color less than those of White people. There is typically still ample media coverage to rely on in the absence of official statements and plenty of stories about people in the community standing up for what’s right. In this situation, however, there’s a huge information vacuum about Faisal. Most preliminary reports in early January, frequently got even his name wrong, and there’s been a vacuum in the wake of this tragedy that leaves many feeling just as bewildered as they are terrified that they could be next.
At Brookline High School, less than four miles from the area of Cambridge where Faisal died, the school newspaper stepped up to fill the silence in the weeks after this shooting. Seeing as she wasn’t able to find reliable information online about Faisal, his life, and the circumstances around his death, Krisha Grigaliunas decided to write her own article so that other people in the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community, as well as the school in general, could have access to the true story.
I spoke to Grigaliunas at my school the week of February 6th. She told me about her initial reaction to reading a very clipped and information-lacking news piece about Faisal’s death. “Hearing about it happening so close by was terrifying; it was kind of a reminder that this is real, this is happening, and it affects people everywhere.”
But after she got over the initial shock of the report, she realised that there really wasn’t much else she could learn. “There wasn’t much they said, it was just that a college student was shot in cambridge.” And worse, what was there could be wildly inaccurate. “I looked him up, and I clicked on images, and there were random pictures of Brown or Asian men with Arabic writing, in ‘Terrorist reports’… it was a little heartbreaking to see how little info was out there.”
Deciding that she needed to be a voice for her own community, Grigaliunas began work on her own piece with the school newspaper. She encountered difficulties trying to find proper facts for her own piece as well, and finding misleading information was deeply saddening. “We shouldn’t have to see that when looking up a dead student’s name.”
When I asked her about her underlying motivations for writing the article, besides just wanting to include basic information, Grigaliunas told me she wished to have been able to include more about Faisal and his life in her piece. “I wish I could’ve had some more sound information, but really, the whole reason I wrote my article is because there wasn’t that. I just wanted to be clear with what happened. Like, this was his name. This was what the police did. This was his school. This was his family. There were so many inconsistencies [in earlier reports], it was just bullshit.”
Grigaliunas also recounted that this isn’t the first time she’s seen an information gap in the wake of a police killing. “Often these kinds of shootings, or hate crimes in general, minority communities are left to pick up the pieces of the violence. I was the one in the AAPI [Asian American and Pacific Islander] club to work on this article because I’m a South Asian, and when the Atlanta shooting happened last year, the more East Asian community was expected to work on the article for the school.”
People like Krisha step up, time and time again, to both lessen the impact of systemic violence on their own communities and provide the truth to anyone who’s willing to listen and learn. Their work is admirable, inspiring, and a reminder of what still needs to be done. Too often, important cases are allowed to be swept under the rug on the whim of the system, and people don’t get the facts they need to push for change. It’s up to us as journalists to bring people the truth, and it’s up to us as readers to push for it.