A Note From Me to You

Dear Friends, 

After months of careful thought and reflection, I have decided not to seek another term to the Cambridge City Council in November. As you can imagine, this was an extremely difficult decision to make. Serving this community on the Cambridge City Council has been an incredible honor, and representing my constituency has been deeply rewarding in so many unimaginable ways. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to serve alongside my colleagues, and the city’s amazing staff for the last 3 terms to make Cambridge a better place for all of our residents. Whether it was through large progressive policy changes, or direct constituent services, impacting the shape of our collective and individual futures was a gift that I will never be able to repay.

While I am not sure what the next chapter of my life looks like, I know that after a decade of committing to this community that I love, service will be a big part of what is next. I want to express my deepest gratitude to the voters of Cambridge for putting your trust in me for the past 6 years. I also want to publicly thank my family for supporting me in this endeavor without reservation, for always having my back, and for making a collective sacrifice to ensure I always had what was needed to be successful in this position.

I look forward to finishing out this term, and working hard to complete the initiatives that I have started with my City Council colleagues, local partners and city staff. 

Again, thank you for your support, love, and shared commitment to our wonderful city!


Statement on the Fatal Cambridge Police Shooting of Sayed Arif Faisal

I want to begin by expressing my deepest condolences to the Faisal family as well as all who knew Sayed Arif Faisal. This is a jarring, tragic event that has stunned the Cambridge community — I have been at a loss for words since last Wednesday. This has been especially striking and shocking for the Bengali community in particular and my heart goes out to the entire community as well as the Faisal family. It’s devastating to lose someone so young, at 20 years old, that’s just a baby, barely even launched, and I cannot imagine what his family and friends are experiencing in this moment. 

I want to thank those who spoke tonight, attended today’s rally, you have supported this family in their time of loss and crisis. I hope that you stay with them, as the months ahead during this investigation and inquest. They will need you and your support and energy and commitment, as they have lost this incredible light in their life.

Along with my council colleagues, and the City’s leadership, we are fully committed to transparency throughout this investigative process, and as you heard from our commissioner, our police department will be fully cooperating with the District Attorney’s office to discover what happened on January 4th. This process will not be short, for those of us who were at the protest earlier and heard from the family’s attorney, this can take up to a year for a court to hear the findings on this case when an inquest will be held.

I want to say while the facts are still being gathered, we all have questions, I have all the same questions as the ones we heard tonight, and today at the protest, and they aren’t easy ones to answer. For the past week, I’ve found myself really jumping to a very angry place and I want to name that because I have been really struggling with the community, alongside the community about how and why this happened. But also we need to let the details unfold through this inquest process, while at the same time working to ensure this never happens in our City again.

As the mayor and City Manager said, over the next several weeks, there are several conversations planned to help our community begin to unravel and discuss openly. I hope residents can join us Thursday night at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. School from 6pm — 8pm for a community conversation and next Wednesday at 3pm in Sullivan Chamber for a special city council meeting where I think there will be a lot of questions and an open dialogue about where we go next. I know these conversations can’t change what has transpired and they won’t bring Arif back but I hope they serve as an open forum for discussion about next steps and how we move forward to a system where public safety means public safety for everyone. Again, my deepest condolences to Arif’s family, and my commitment to ensure an open and transparent process. 

For more information about any upcoming meetings or events, click here.

To watch my full statement, click here

Upcoming Events:

Thursday, January 12 from 6pm – 8pm: Community Meeting at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. School (102 Putnam Avenue) where City Leadership and the District Attorney will share information about the investigation process and any updates thus far.

Saturday, January 14 from 2pm – 3:30pm: Community Support Meeting for the Cambridgeport Neighborhood at the Morse School (40 Granite Street) hosted by the Peace Commission and the Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association.

Wednesday, January 18 from 3pm – 5pm: Special City Council Meeting (Sullivan Chamber in City Hall) to discuss the tragic events of January 4th and steps forward.

You can attend the Special Council meeting in person, watch online via Zoom or the Open Meeting Portal, or tune into Cityview Channel 22. 

These Are Our Kids, and We Can’t Lose One More

As we continue to navigate the obstacles this pandemic throws at us, we are met with another, pervasive crisis – the recent explosion of gun violence in our community. Its impacts have reached far beyond its young victims, Xavier Louis-Jacques, Robert Favreau, and others who have been injured, and has penetrated into the lives of each of our residents. Their families carry a heavy weight in their hearts, while the kids we have failed suffer in silence and our neighbors, who COVID forced indoors for over a year, are now forced inside by gun violence. But the violence and fear our community is now feeling has been years in the making. 

We know that poverty and trauma is the root of most crime, so when the only two options to escape poverty are heading to college or turning to the streets, it’s no surprise that so many of our kids get caught up in the cycle of violence. If we’re serious about addressing dangerous crime in our community, that means creating sustainable, alternative opportunities for long-term, upward economic mobility, starting with taking stock of our existing programs and re-imagining our support structures. 

In these situations, we so often hear well-intentioned calls to institute new programs to target this vulnerable group. While additional interventions may be needed, so many organizations in our community are already doing critical work to help our youth and young adults get on or stay on the right path, but without significant City investment, their impact is limited. Take Friday Night Hype (FNH), a mentorship program that connects middle school students with community leaders, therapeutic activities, hot meals, and more. I joined the FNH team and 100 middle schoolers last week for an afternoon of engaging programming, and was impressed, but not surprised, at what I saw. Each mentor either already knew every student by name or spent the four hour long event getting to know each scholar individually, demonstrating their unparalleled dedication to these kids. But by asking the organizers to rely on community donations and their own funds instead of providing routine City funding, which I called for in a recent policy order, we’re undervaluing their contributions to our community, and preventing them from expanding. 

For our teens who don’t see college as the right fit for them, RSTA is uniquely positioned to prepare them for post-graduation life, but some kids are systemically labeled ‘problem students’ and are cast aside into these vocational programs for trades they don’t intend to pursue. Without a real career plan, too many are sucked into bad situations when their prospects don’t pan out. Next month, we’ll be starting a long overdue assessment of RSTA so we can take what works, leave what doesn’t, and mold this program into an opportunity for our young people. Setting our students up for success means meeting them where they are, and creating an approach with mental health support as well as education or relevant job training to stop the cycle of violence before it begins. 

After graduation, Building Pathways helps prepare Cambridge residents for an apprenticeship in the building trades, opening the door to a career in construction and well-paying union jobs. This six-week experience plays a crucial role in training and advocating for young adults interested in construction jobs, but since it’s unpaid, far too many of our low-income youth, who this program could help support with a meaningful career opportunity, cannot access it. The City has an important responsibility here to put our dollars to work to get these young residents into work, by, for instance, providing living expense stipends to program participants who are seeking career advancement but just need this vital tool for success.

These are just a few examples of the many programs in the City that are already doing critical work to support our youth and young adults. By building on this existing infrastructure to target at-risk youth with holistic opportunities, we can leverage their well-earned community trust and ties to develop short and long-term interventions that truly work for the people they serve. Investing our time, our effort, and most importantly, our dollars, is the only way to get to a strong, interwoven support system that ensures these young residents are guided through every stage of life, so when they age out of one specific program, they can enter a new one if needed.

Our community is at a critical juncture. If we want to keep our young people and young adults safe and set them on a path towards long-term success, we have to close the opportunity and resource gaps through mentorships, workforce development, internships, re-entry programs, and more, so no kid falls through the cracks. That means checking our egos at the door, taking a hard look at programs that need revamping, and committing to developing a collaborative, multi-faceted plan to address gun violence. Re-imagining these interventions won’t be easy, but we need to meet the moment, because these are our kids, and we can’t lose one more.

Homes at 2072 Massachusetts Ave. Will Be A Lifeline for Families

This essay was co-authored by Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui, Vice Mayor Alanna Mallon and Councillors E. Denise Simmons and Marc McGovern.

On May 20, 2021 the Board of Zoning will hold a second meeting to discuss the 100 percent affordable housing proposal for 2072 Massachusetts Ave., North Cambridge If approved, this building will create 48 homes, approximately 70 percent of which will be two and three bedrooms, just blocks from public transit – all affordable.

The project would achieve “passive house standards,” which when combined with the planned energy-efficient HVAC, lighting, installation of rooftop solar/green roof and healthy building materials will be one of the highest levels of sustainability achievable by a builder.

In short, this building is everything we’ve stated we want as a city: affordable, family-sized homes that are transit oriented, on a major retail corridor, beautifully designed and environmentally sustainable. This is a project that meets all the city’s major goals, and it should be applauded.

The Planning Board has twice approved the project unanimously, and now its future and the future of those who will benefit from these affordable homes sits with the BZA to approve zoning relief under the chapter 40B process.

Over the course of the past several years, city staff and the City Council have taken steps to address the critical need for affordable housing in our community. For those of us working every day to address the housing needs of our residents, we know how important it is that we move beyond words and sentiments in support of affordable housing and take action to build and produce this much needed resource.

The Covid-19 pandemic has illuminated and revealed decades of public policy that fails our most vulnerable residents in housing, transportation, food access, education and more. This realization should be an opportunity for us to remedy these injustices.

Recently, Frost Terrace, another 100 percent affordable building, got close to 1,000 applicants for its 40 homes, and Finch Apartments on Concord Avenue, a 98-unit affordable building, got more than 2,600 applicants. The Cambridge Housing Authority has a list of more than 5,000 families who live or work in Cambridge waiting for affordable housing. Every unit matters. Every unit is a home. Every home change lives.

Some have indicated their willingness to “sacrifice” units to make the building smaller. As councillors, we don’t believe these homes should be “sacrificed.” We see these homes as tangible lifelines for residents. Residents such as Lisa (names have been changed), who lived in her car for months during this pandemic while her CRLS students doubled up with friends so they could still attend school. Or Ellen, a single mother who grew up in Cambridge and is being forced to move outside the only city they have ever known because she can’t find an affordable apartment. Or Dina, a victim of domestic violence who fled her abuser with her children and lived with a family friend in her one-bedroom for years as she waited for a family-sized unit to accommodate her family.

These are real people, people we’ve gotten to know, love and care for as friends and valued members of our community. These residents are not abstract, and their future should be a priority for all of us.

We have heard some say, “this project won’t solve the affordable housing crisis.” This might be true, but Cambridge has never been a community to throw its collective hands in the air and abandon responsibility because we can’t solve the entire problem. These homes will not only be a lifeline to those 48 families who will live there initially, but to all the families who will call the building home over its lifetime. Hundreds of families who would otherwise be forced out of Cambridge will have the opportunity to stay in Cambridge over the next several decades.

We see the BZA as partners in helping to meet the city’s goal for providing housing for a more affordable and equitable Cambridge. Although concerns such as traffic, parking and shadows may be important, we don’t see them as more important than people having places to live. We hope the BZA will see clearly to move this building forward so more people can have the security of a safe and affordable home.

Mother’s Day Reflections

Sacrifice was something my mom knew all too well while I was growing up. At just 24 years old, she was left scrambling to raise my brother and I, and to navigate life as a working single-parent without a college degree or a basic support structure. Just keeping a roof over our heads and food on the table was an endless struggle, especially with a child with a complex health condition, and even after hours spent clipping coupons for three different grocery stores, she often had to make the difficult decision between paying for heating or having enough to eat. 

At a time when she should have been filled with lively youth, my mom was weighed down by poverty, and the never-ending attempts to claw our way towards economic security without any clear path towards achieving it. After years of low-wage jobs, she finally had the chance to go back to school when I was a teenager, but had to take in a roommate to help pay the bills. Even then, she was overwhelmed by fears of what one unexpected emergency would mean for our family, too anxious about our struggles to truly focus on investing in our futures. 

The stress of poverty we experienced is a reality for far too many families in Cambridge, especially those headed by single caregivers. A recent report published by the Cambridge Community Foundation found that more than one-third of local single caretakers earn just $30,000 or less annually, but according to MIT’s Living Wage Calculator, a single caregiver with two children would need to earn $104,443 each year to just make ends meet, without setting aside money for college or emergencies. Poverty levels among residents of color is also twice that of the City-wide poverty rate. It’s clear that, in one of America’s increasingly most unaffordable cities, economic mobility is becoming a fleeting dream for many.

Cambridge RISE, a guaranteed income pilot launching this summer, is a ray of hope for our community. By giving 120 low-income single caretaker families regular, no-strings-attached $500 payments for 18 months, this pilot will be a transformative opportunity for our low-income residents, giving them a desperately-needed boost towards financial security. Upon learning about RISE, my mother teared up, saying that with this support, “I could have been a different mom.”

For the participants in SEED, the two-year guaranteed income pilot that recently wrapped up in Stockton, California, the results were striking. Recipients, who were given unconditional $500 payments each month, overwhelmingly used the money for basic needs like food, clothes, and utilities, with less than 1% of the funds being used to purchase tobacco or alcohol. Having these payments to fall back on improved recipients’ health, who showed less depression and anxiety, and enhanced wellbeing. Overall, this guaranteed income was proven to enhance mental health at the same level as clinical trials of Prozac. 

When this financial safety net was coupled with improved mental health, participants’ mindsets transformed. Instead of remaining in survival mode as they struggled to scrape by, they had new opportunities for self-determination, goal-setting, and risk taking. Simply put, having a little extra breathing room in their budget every month emboldened them to take time off work to interview for a higher-paying job, go back to school, save for a rainy day, and get on a path towards upward economic mobility. Those receiving this guaranteed income were twice as likely to transition from part-time to full-time work than those who did not, demonstrating that these payments will have a long-lasting impact, far past the end of the pilot. 

The data shows a real, tangible impact on recipients’ lives, but there is also value to guaranteed income that cannot be measured so easily. Anecdotally, SEED recipients reported being better partners, parents, and neighbors. Some were able to focus on their kids more, becoming involved with their school or enabling them to take part in extracurriculars. Others were able to access healthcare more easily, with early preventative care meaning long-term health and financial benefits. Even beyond the numbers, a guaranteed income made a meaningful difference in their lives. 

In helping develop this pilot, my firsthand experiences being raised by a single parent made this project very personal to me. I will always be eternally grateful for the endless sacrifices my mom made for my brother and I, but she shouldn’t have had to make the tough choice between keeping the lights on and investing in our future. Low-income moms, especially around Mother’s Day, are far too often glorified for making incredible sacrifices for their children, like going hungry so their kids have enough to eat, when the mere existence of these difficult decisions indicate a systemic failure. A guaranteed income like this is the relief our community needs to fix this failure, and it is exactly the kind of opportunity my family needed when I was younger.

Cambridge RISE was founded by Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui, Vice Mayor Alanna Mallon, Councillor Marc McGovern, the Cambridge Community Foundation, the Cambridge Economic Opportunity Committee, Just-A-Start, and the Cambridge Housing Authority, and couldn’t have been possible without generous support from donors, including Harvard University, MIT, and Mayors for a Guaranteed Income. To learn more about Cambridge RISE, visit our website: https://www.cambridgerise.org/ 

Give the Gift of Food Security this Holiday Season

Last week, we presented the bleak picture of hunger in Cambridge, and the escalating need we are seeing on the ground to over 100 residents at a virtual breakfast and attendees were stunned to hear that the need is so great. This isn’t uncommon. Underneath the misleading, surface-level appearance of wealth that Cambridge is known for runs a deep, underlying current of wealth disparity and food insecurity. As food access providers and Cambridge leaders, we’re no strangers to tight budgets, out-of-the-box thinking, and creative solutions to meet the needs of our community in any way we can. But we realized that we needed to lift our heads up from the work we do each day, and educate residents on the troubling increase in need we are seeing, and drowning in. 

Food pantries have served as an invaluable safety-net for our low-income neighbors for years, keeping food on the table as dollars stretch thin. But with widespread layoffs and mass business closures, coupled with fears over a new case surge and an upcoming expiration of key unemployment benefits at the end of the year, the high community need that has been steadily growing since March is now skyrocketing to completely unprecedented levels that food access organizations are struggling to keep up with. Government programs, like Farmers to Families, that were providing much needed food to our communities have become difficult to access, putting more pressure on organizations to purchase food to support their clients.

Statewide, Massachusetts is experiencing the highest percent increase in food insecurity of any state across the country. More locally, the Greater Boston Food Bank currently estimates that 15,080 Cambridge residents, or 13% of Cambridge’s entire population, are food-insecure. This sharp increase in hunger means that one in eight residents you see while running errands don’t know where their next meal is coming from. The food insecurity rate amongst children is even more devastating, with 14.9% of kids in Middlesex County, or 1 in 7 students in your child’s class, lacking reliable access to food. 

Community need is soaring as we enter the winter season and a new case surge, and our local non-profits are rising to a herculean challenge. The Cambridge Community Center, for example, is now serving over 250 households each day with their food pantry, compared to an average of 150-200 households per day, four days a week, during the summer. Food For Free’s Home Delivery Program grew 150% from 160 households to almost 400. Similarly, the Greater Boston Food Bank, which distributed 1 million pounds of food to 415,000 people every week before this public health crisis began, is now distributing 2.5 million pounds of food each week to 660,000 people. Each Cambridge food pantry is anecdotally reporting a 10-15% increase in their food pantry lines in the last few months. This sharp uptick in need means our local food access organizations, who already had small budgets pre-COVID, are struggling to keep up and fill in emerging resource gaps throughout our community. Hard times, financially, for businesses and residents alike, mean that these non-profits aren’t receiving the donations they usually depend on to make ends meet, while rent, hazard pay for staff, and other operational costs add up quickly.

A policy order filed Monday night is responding to this need by asking the City to step up to immediately support local food access organizations, and create an outreach campaign to help close the SNAP Gap as a longer-term, sustainable solution to food insecurity. But with the recent exponential need, tighter margins than ever, and so much on the line, even with the City’s support we can’t do this alone; our most vulnerable neighbors need your help too. That’s why we’re launching the “Cambridge Challenge Against Hunger” to fight food insecurity in our community this holiday season. Make a donation to help us reach our $100,000 fundraising goal and stop food insecurity in its tracks.

While some local food pantries are still accepting food donations, giving a monetary gift is the most meaningful way you can support our food access organizations. Not only is it safer amid COVID to make a financial donation online or by check, but doing so also helps relieve the burden of operating costs by helping cover rent for storage space, hazard pay for staff, and so much more. Further, food access organizations can use their industry connections to get a better price on bulk food, making your dollar stretch further to help a family in need.

Celebrations this year will look different than they usually do, but that gives us a new, unique opportunity to forge new traditions, and embody a new meaning of the “season of giving.” Use the money you would have spent on a flight to see relatives or on a holiday party for your friends to make a generous donation to an incredibly worthy cause to make an immediate, heartfelt impact on our community. A gift of just $100 will help feed four families in need through the Food For Free Home Delivery program, or purchase one weeks worth of diapers for four families through the Cambridge Community Center’s food and supply pantry

This holiday season, we are challenging you to give the gift of food security to your neighbors in need by supporting our local food access organizations and the “Cambridge Challenge Against Hunger” with a generous donation, today. Please see below links to Cambridge-based organizations working to fight food insecurity and keep food on tables across our community. Donate today, to ensure your neighbors have food tomorrow, next month and next year.

Cambridge Community Center

Food For Free

Margaret Fuller Neighborhood House

East End House 

Agassiz Baldwin Community

Cambridge Economic Opportunity Committee (CEOC)

Project Restore Us

For a full list of Cambridge Food Resources, please see this list.

The Arts Desperately Need Your Support

A recent Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC) survey found that Arts organizations in the Greater Boston Area lost over $161 million in projected revenue as a result of COVID-19, and will need two years to recoup that crippling loss. As those among the first to close their doors to stop the spread of transmission, and as they are Phase 4 institutions who will be the last to reopen their doors, Coronavirus has placed the Arts in a financially devastating position.

Unlike retail establishments or restaurants, they can’t offer curbside pick-up or delivery to your door. Arts organizations’ ability to offer programming, and profit from it, heavily relies on access to physical space. With venue closures beginning in early March, and likely continuing until at least January 2021, the skyrocketing rents, high insurance fees, and payroll costs that troubled this already beleaguered and underfunded sector of our economy pre-pandemic, now seem insurmountable without regular funding streams and intentional government support. 

Reopening for the Arts means significant changes. Reducing occupancy, adjusting concessions, upgrading HVAC and ventilation systems, installing handwashing facilities, and more will change core programming, and that requires funding. MCC’s cost estimate for a statewide recovery strategy implementation stands at a meager $117 million. Comparatively, the Arts infused $2 billion into Boston’s economy in 2019, and draws in 21 million attendees each year –  more than the Boston Red Sox, New England Patriots, Boston Bruins, and Celtics combined. Continued inaction will only cause acute financial devastation across the Commonwealth, and the only way to ensure a sector-wide return of this crucial economic driver is a significant state funding stream for Arts recovery. 

The State must step in with meaningful support, as federal relief efforts have fallen flat. CARES Act funding for the Arts only went to institutions that previously received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts. While “High Arts” organizations like the Boston Ballet and the Boston Symphony Orchestra benefited, the process failed to reflect or include the small and mid-sized Arts organizations that make up the heart and soul of our Central Square Cultural District. 

Despite other municipalities being forced to make tough budget cuts, Cambridge is in a fortunate financial position, with a $585,000 funding increase slated for the Arts in the 2021 Fiscal Year. The City also partnered with the Cambridge Community Foundation to raise and disperse over $260,000 to Arts organizations and individuals artists as immediate COVID-19 relief in March. Overall, Cambridge is doing far more for it’s Arts community than most other cities. But, it is still not enough.

If the situation continues course without intentional financial support from every level of government, expect sector-wide closures with staggering ripple effects to ensue. Aside from the artists, dancers, actors, musicians, and other creatives that put on shows and fill art galleries, countless behind-the-scenes workers that run operations will be hurt. Across Massachusetts, the equivalent of 71,000 full-time jobs are created by the Arts industry, and each and every one of them is at risk of disappearing if swift action is not taken.

The Arts are a pervasive, wide-reaching economic driving force that extends far beyond itself. In Massachusetts, art event attendees annually spent $877 million on meals, souvenirs, ground transportation, and other indirect audience expenses pre-pandemic. Without the foot traffic and business that the Arts attract, restaurants, retail stores, bars, and hotels’ struggles will only intensify. Simply put, the economy will not, and cannot, recover without greater support for the Arts. 

The Arts have served an invaluable role these past few months. Whether it’s bingeing a new Netflix series, watching an impromptu concert on FaceBook Live, or learning new moves at a virtual dance class, they’ve brought joy into our lives when we’ve needed it the most. For that, we owe them a great debt, and repayment of that debt must come quickly. 

If we want to emerge from this public health crisis with the Arts community that enriches our lives, lifts our spirits, and sustains our Main Street economy, we must act now. Rent cancellations, tax incentives for rent-forgiveness, requirements for landlords to bring spaces up to code without passing costs onto tenants, and capital funds for improvements are just a few critical ways to uplift our struggling Arts community. Amid subpar federal efforts and financial limitations for municipalities, worthwhile relief can only come from the State. Please help put the building blocks for a strong economic recovery into place by joining me in advocating for the Arts. Contact your State Representatives and Senators today and urge them to take immediate action to fund recovery for the Arts as outlined by MCC, and uplift the sector that gives so much back.

Don’t know who your State Representatives and Senators are? Click here to find their names and contact information.

Rethinking Policing in Cambridge

Like you, my heart has been broken over the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmed Aubrey, and the countless other beautiful, Black lives we have lost to police violence and brutality. The peaceful protests across the country mourning George Floyd’s murder have devolved into, often bloody, altercations with the Police. Militarized vehicles and weapons better fit for war zones have been deployed in residential neighborhoods and city streets. Law enforcement officers have worn medical-grade personal protective equipment that our healthcare professionals haven’t had reliable access to in the past twelve weeks during a global pandemic with a rapidly spreading, deadly virus. 

Rightfully so, these altercations have evolved into calls for action at every level of government, demanding elected officials rethink our current policing models, and how we fund police departments. Across the country, government leaders are having deep conversations, making critical decisions on how they will ensure the safety of every resident, and the health of their communities moving forward.

Here in Cambridge, my colleagues and I have heard the impassioned cries for change, and felt the pain and the anger running deep through our community. And as former President Obama emphasized in his national address last night, most of the reforms required to prevent this type of violence and injustice need to take place at the local level. 

We on the City Council are exploring short-term and long-term ways to address systemic issues in the Police Department, in the hopes of better aligning with the “8 Can’t Wait” data-driven action items that could reduce police violence by 72%. By making the Police Review and Advisory Board more effective, creating more transparency by publishing data from the monthly CPD Comstat report on resident complaints and outcomes, having Officers wear body cameras to provide for greater accountability, advocating for changes in State Laws that keep Officers’ disciplinary actions and complaint cases out of the public eye, re-examining funding to increase non-police intervention by social workers, ROCA community outreach workers, and other community partners, demilitarizing Police equipment, and more, we can set the bar even higher for others and for ourselves on what an equitable Police Department looks like. 

In some ways, our Police Department is held up as a national standard on community policing: we have a citizen review board of the Police, and either fully or partially align with many of the 8 Can’t Wait recommendations. Not every one of these recommendations is codified in CPD’s policies though, and others need to be strengthened to truly be effective.

  1. Ban Chokeholds and Strangleholds: CPD’s use of force policy expressly prohibits chokeholds, strangleholds, any kind of carotid control, and manual holds intended to inflict pain or injury. However, this does not include manual holds for which an Officer has been trained in gaining or maintaining control of a detainee. What this means warrants further discussion.
  2. Require De-Escalation: CPD Officers attend mandatory training on de-escalation, and as someone who has attended one of these trainings, I can vouch for their quality. However, I am not sure where, or if, it is codified, and it needs to be expressly written as a policy requirement.
  3. Require Warning Before Shooting: Whenever practical, Officers must identify themselves as police officers when pointing a firearm at another person, and state their intention to shoot before discharging a firearm. The condition of “whenever practical” is ambiguous, and is worthy of further conversation.
  4. Exhaust All Other Means Before Shooting: Officers are required to use only the degree of force necessary in any situation, whether it be placing someone under arrest, placing them in protective custody, to bring an incident under control, or protect the safety of others or themselves. This policy should be updated to require Officers to exhaust all other means before shooting a firearm to codify this recommendation. 
  5. Duty to Intervene: CPD has no written policy requiring Officers to intervene when they witness a colleague use excessive force. This policy could have saved George Floyd’s life, and needs to be an expressly written policy all CPD Officers are required to follow.
  6. Ban Shooting at Moving Vehicles: Officers are not allowed to shoot into a moving vehicle unless the vehicle’s occupants are using it to exert deadly force against an Officer or a victim. In these cases, an Officer may discharge a firearm if the use of the vehicle presents an immediate threat of death or serious harm, and if there is reason to believe that shooting will not endanger an innocent person.
  7. Require Use of Force Continuum: This requires further discussion.
  8. Require Comprehensive Reporting: After an incident, all Officers on the scene must submit a report documenting their involvement, observations, and other relevant facts. If an Officer witnessed a use of force, they will be made available to give interviews and statements on the incident. However, transparency and accountability would be improved if this policy was strengthened to require reporting on the use of force to the City Council through the annual crime report, or the monthly Comstate report only the Police Commissioner currently has access to.

Being a national standard doesn’t mean we should stand still and complacently take no action, nor does it mean we are perfect. We must examine where imperfections lie, where comprehensive change can be affected, and where trust can be forged.

In his address last night, President Obama also noted that, to truly disrupt our unjust legal system and reimagine policing on a meaningful level, reform must happen in more than 19,000 American municipalities, and in more than 18,000 local enforcement jurisdictions. My promise to you is that Cambridge will be one of them.

But we can’t do that without you, our residents. A policy response that truly demands equity and justice requires your input. We need a community-driven response to strive together towards a Police Department that protects and serves all of us, without racial bias, without creating trauma, and without perpetuating a cycle of violence on our black and brown communities. And from the outpouring of local action in the form of protests, community organizing, engagement with elected officials I have seen over the past week, I know Cantabridgians are up to the task.

As a vital first step, Mayor Siddiqui, myself and Councillors Simmons and Zondervan are filing a resolution for next Monday’s meeting asking the City Council to declare racism a public health crisis. By institutionally acknowledging the ways racism permeates our schools, healthcare, housing, criminal justice system, and workforce, we will continue to build momentum and deepen a sense of urgency to dismantle oppressive systems. Next week, the City will also continue this critical dialogue with a virtual Town Hall on policing in Cambridge hosted by Mayor Siddiqui, City Manager DePasquale, and the Police Department. Residents’ questions on the Police Department’s policies on the use of force, body cameras, and transparency will be answered, and there will be an opportunity for community members to give public comment. More details will come in the following days. I hope to “see” you there.

What Do You Do During a Stay at Home Advisory, if You Don’t Have a Home?

These past few weeks have certainly been challenging. Seemingly overnight, public schools and universities closed, non-essential businesses were moved online, and Cambridge municipal buildings shut their doors for the foreseeable future, all in attempt to flatten the curve of COVID-19 transmission. Perhaps the most drastic change was when Governor Charlie Baker issued a Stay at Home Advisory, which was recently extended to May 4th. At our last meeting, the City Council heard directly from Claude Jacob, the City’s Chief Public Health Officer, just how necessary this swift action was: “This is my third visit to the City Council in as many weeks, and as of this afternoon, the case count in Cambridge stands at 79 individuals, with one reported fatality as of this past weekend. That number was 7 when I was here two weeks ago.”  And, as that number has already increased to 119 positive cases within the past four days, the need to stay home and away from large groups is clear. But what do you do during a Stay at Home Advisory, if you don’t have a home?  How do you self-isolate, if you sleep within several feet of someone else at a homeless shelter?

For our homeless residents, this public health crisis poses an especially high risk. Someone experiencing homelessness is more likely to be hospitalized, to need intensive care, and to die from COVID-19 than their housed counterparts. Certain common factors among homeless individuals, such as being older, having underlying health conditions, lacking access to hygienic materials, and more mean this already vulnerable population is in great need of support. The graphs below illustrate the specific risks our homeless population face when compared to the general population:

Source: “Estimated Emergency and Observational/Quarantine Capacity Need for the US Homeless Population Related to COVID-19 Exposure by County; Projected Hospitalizations, Intensive Care Units and Mortality” by Dennis Culhane, Dan Treglia, Ken Steif, Randall Kuhn, and Thomas Byrne, March 25 2020.

The threat posed by this high level of susceptibility extends beyond our homeless population as well. As Risa Mednick, a tireless advocate for Cambridge’s vulnerable residents, eloquently put it in a recent communication to the City Council (which included the above referenced report), 

“The basic needs of our most vulnerable community members must be addressed first ‐‐ safe, warm quarantine space with easy access to running water, soap, bathrooms, showers, and qualified care. Without these measures, the ripple effect of infection among service providers across many systems (from frontline nonprofit workers to municipal employees to law enforcement officers) could be devastating. It is clear that the collaboration of the private and higher education sectors in our community is critical at this moment. The Cambridge nonprofit organizations providing congregate living, overnight shelter, and day shelter options do not have a way to access additional space without intervention.” 

For these reasons, the City has announced that the War Memorial Recreation Center will be used as an emergency homeless shelter during this pandemic.

Located at 1640 Cambridge Street, the War Memorial was determined to be the best, and the only site readily available for an emergency homeless shelter. Pinpointed by an Emergency Task Force, the War Memorial Center meets requirements for both physical space as well as activation time, already serves as the City’s designated site for emergency preparedness activities, and is approved by the Red Cross, making it well-suited to fit the needs of our homeless residents. 

Depending on a residents’ health, they will be placed in one of three distinct service sections of the shelter: a main area for non-symptomatic residents, a quarantine section for those displaying symptoms as they await testing, and a self-isolation area for individuals who have Coronavirus. The unique layout of the War Memorial will ensure these three groups do not intermingle, so that those without symptoms can be protected from COVID-19, and those sick or with symptoms have access to the private bedrooms and bathrooms to prevent further spread. 

Medical staff will be available for everyone sheltering at the Recreation Center, ensuring those quarantining or isolating are cared for, and early signs of transmission are detected. Private security will be employed within the shelter, while the Cambridge Police Department will work to prevent any disruptions to the surrounding neighborhood, and there will be a hotline for adjacent residents for any questions and concerns. As the War Memorial is a part of the Cambridge Rindge and Latin Schools campus, City staff has worked with Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to secure classroom space for students, should schools reopen before the end of the academic year.

Those residing at the shelter will be offered day programming by Bay Cove Human Services, encouraging them to stay in shelter, and out of harm’s way, during daytime hours. The shelter will additionally serve as an overflow space for other homeless shelters. The CDC and FEMA are recommending 100-110 square feet of space be allotted per bed, meaning a large reduction of available beds in existing shelters, which were previously highly concentrated to maximize capacity. Opening this additional shelter will help ensure this vulnerable population can responsibly social distance, while continuing to access the services they need.

In times like these, it is heartening that our City is dedicated to protecting and supporting this vulnerable population during their time of need. The findings of one report, “Estimated Emergency and Observational/Quarantine Capacity Need for the US Homeless Population Related to COVID-19 Exposure by County; Projected Hospitalizations, Intensive Care Units and Mortality” by Dennis Culhane, Dan Treglia, Ken Steif, Randall Kuhn, and Thomas Byrne, demonstrate just how necessary this response is. This report estimates that 40% of the country’s homeless population could be infected with Coronavirus at the peak of the crisis. As Cambridge currently has 407 homeless residents, with 81 unsheltered, and 326 in shelters, it is imperative that we flatten the curve of transmission before that estimate becomes a reality for our community. Our healthcare system is already overwhelmed, and additional stress caused by inaction could prove disastrous, if not deadly. Allowing homeless residents to access shelter and practice social distancing is a proactive way to prevent further infection, which is the vital key to solving this public health crisis.

As Dr. Assaad Sayah, Public Health Commissioner and the CEO of the Cambridge Health Alliance, noted during our last City Council meeting, “These are unprecedented times, and we are doing unprecedented work. This work is absolutely critical, not only for the health of the individuals in question, but for the health of everybody in the City of Cambridge.” Stopping the spread of COVID-19, both among our homeless population and the entire Cambridge community, starts with providing this vulnerable group with access to housing, healthcare, and day programming. I am hopeful that, with this creation of an emergency homeless shelter, our most vulnerable residents will be better served, and the entire City will be set on a path towards recovery.

Opening this emergency homeless shelter is just one of the many ways in which the City is supporting our community during the COVID-19 pandemic. To learn more about resources that are available to you, click here.