WASHINGTON – Rahul Dubey had some unexpected guests Monday night — about 60 in all — as a tense nation’s capital continued to grapple with the fallout from the death of George Floyd while in police custody.
They were protesters out after Washington’s 7 p.m. curfew and about to be arrested when Dubey frantically waved them into his rowhouse. Police chased them as far as the entrance. Inside, pandemonium ensued as some of the screaming protesters hit by pepper spray sought relief for their eyes with milk and water. On the back patio, neighbors pitched in by handing milk over the fence.
“The whole time he didn’t think of himself,” said one of the protesters, a 22-year-old Virginia man named Meka who declined to give his last name. “He was just trying to keep everybody safe, make sure we knew our rights and to make sure our spirits were lifted throughout the night.”
Dubey said a police line was about two houses away when he flung his door open and he encouraged people to come inside.
“And now the pepper spray is coming, and they’re coughing and they can’t see and they’re tripping up on the stairs and their friends or whoever’s around them is helping them, pulling them inside the house. And this went on for 10 minutes," Dubey said, adding that “it was pure terror. It was 10 minutes of terror."
Meka insists that the protesters acted peacefully throughout the evening. He said he didn’t see anybody who tried to fight police or cause damage. At the same time, he acknowledged openly defying the curfew as he participated in his third consecutive night of protesting.
“I believe, as an American citizen, they don’t have the right to place a curfew on us if we were just peacefully protesting. I believe that’s unconstitutional in the first place,” Meka said, adding that he was just trying to make a difference in the world.
Dubey said he also viewed the protesters as acting respectfully: “The last thing that they were chanting with their arms out peacefully was ’let us through, let us through.'"
Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser ordered a curfew from 7 p.m. Monday until 6 a.m. the following day. She emphasized that “if you are out, then you are subject to be stopped and/or arrested, so it’s very important that you stay at home.”
The move came after violence erupted the night before near the White House, where looters and vandals set fire to parked cars and buildings, including historic St. John’s Church. Firefighters were able to quickly extinguish that fire.
D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham said at a news conference Tuesday that police started seeing behavior among the protesters in northwest Washington around 9 p.m. Monday that was consistent with what preceded violent activity the night before.
He said police moved to get that stopped with arrests and a homeowner “allowed a number of people who were going to be arrested into his home.”
Newsham said police were in constant communication with Dubey and that the people in the home ultimately were not arrested. At one point, Meka said, police officers sought to enter after stating they had received a 911 call, but the protesters all denied making such a call and the officers left.
All told, however, there were 194 arrests in that neighborhood.
While the visitors praised Dubey, he was impressed with them as well.
“They were all strangers to each other before this started and when we were in that first hour we were all taking care of each other," he said. As night continued into early morning, he said the group began “sharing stories of where they were on Sunday and what had happened and, you know, why Black Lives Matter and what they were feeling inside."