A man sheltered 70 protesters in his D.C. home Monday night after police allegedly descended upon a peaceful crowd with pepper spray and batons. The protesters left the home when the district’s new curfew ended at 6 a.m., but not before a night filled with threats and wild accusations by police officers.
Rahul Dubey was standing outside of his home when the incident occurred. He was already allowing protesters to charge their phones, use his bathroom, and evade advancing officers through his backyard, but he noticed the behavior of the crowd shift.
“There was a big bang, there was spray—my eyes started burning—[I heard] screaming like I’ve never heard before,” Dubey told local ABC affiliate WJLA, adding that the panicked protesters and officers resembled a “human tsunami” amidst a cloud of pepper spray and waving batons.
“I was yelling ‘get in, get in the house’ for about ten minutes,” Dubey continued. “They were spraying pepper spray into people’s backs and the side of their head. It was pandemonium and mayhem inside for about an hour and a half.”
By 10:30 p.m., Dubey said the house was filled to the brim with protesters, mostly in their late teens and twenties, who were tending to wounds and treating their eyes after getting pepper-sprayed. Dubey ordered pizza while neighbors brought over food, masks, and jugs of milk to help neutralize the spray. They stayed all night until 6 a.m. when D.C.’s curfew was lifted, but remained cautious despite the absence of cops.
They had plenty of reasons to be wary.
A woman named Taylor told WJLA that she feared for her life before she sought refuge in Dubey’s home. She was peacefully protesting past curfew when the police grew aggressive.
“You have people getting beat, people getting pepper-sprayed, maced, everywhere, everywhere you turn somebody’s on the ground getting hurt, everybody’s just running,” Taylor said. “So I ran to the first thing I saw.”
She saw Dubey fanning people into his home, but even his own home wasn’t safe from the police. Dubey says that the police shot tear gas through his windows.
A woman named Allison Lane who live-tweeted from Dubey’s home Monday night said that the police had the home surrounded and making arrests.
“The cops corralled us on this street and sprayed us down,” she tweeted. “Lots of people are hurt but not terribly. They chased us away from the White House with flash bangs into a residential neighborhood.”
Lane also said that the police accused them of breaking into Dubey’s home.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser condemned federal police who deployed munitions on a crowd in front of the White House earlier that evening, before the 7 p.m. curfew. She called the move “shameful” and said that their actions made the job of D.C. police much harder. But recollections from Dubey and the dozens who spent the night in his home indicates that the police had little difficulty doing their job: Sowing chaos and apprehending peaceful protesters with relative ease.
The events in D.C. echos in cities across the country as mass protests against police brutality continue to emerge in the wake of the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer held him in a neck restraint for nearly nine minutes. Increasingly aggressive shows of force by local police as well as federal entities have turned even the tamest protests into scenes indecipherable from war zones. Neither activists, nor journalists, nor spectators have been spared by police aggression, and ordinary people have been compelled to take decisive action when it matters most.
But Dubey told the Washington Post that he’s no hero. “If people like us aren’t going to open a door, then who the fuck is?”