A D.C. man opened his doors to dozens of protesters overnight Tuesday after he said officers physically attacked and pepper-sprayed a group of over 200 demonstrators.
Protesters emerged from the three-story rowhome a few minutes after a citywide curfew expired at 6 a.m. and clapped for the man who housed them overnight, Rahul Dubey.
Dubey said that he acted on instinct after seeing protesters "absolutely decimated and beaten on the steps of my house."
Dubey said he was also hit with some of the pepper spray.
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One person who eventually took shelter in a home said that police followed a group of protesters from Florida Avenue NW to near 15th and Swann streets. They said the police "corralled" them on Swann Street and used pepper spray.
Police officers swarmed the area around protesters in a move to enforce the curfew that had gone into effect at 7 p.m., D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham said Tuesday. He did not deny that officers used pepper spray, but said there was "a lot of misinformation" on social media.
"We'll go back and take a very, very close look to ensure that the police were respectful and responsible, professional and constitutional, in conducting those arrests," Newsham said.
WTOP reporter Ken Duffy posted pictures and videos of police blocking roads and alleys in the neighborhood, saying police had "pinned us down" at 15th and Swann streets. He later took shelter in a home for some time before leaving.
One-hundred-ninety-four people were arrested near Swann Street, Newsham said. In total, more than 300 people were arrested across the city between Monday night and Tuesday morning, mostly on charges of breaking curfew, burglary or rioting, Newsham said.
Dozens of people in the area of Swann street avoided arrest by taking refuge in strangers' homes. Three of four homes opened their doors, witnesses told News4. Up to 60 people took refuge inside Dubey's home near 15th and Swann streets, witnesses told News4.
“We weren’t doing anything violent, they pepper-sprayed us right up to the doorway," one person inside told News4's Jackie Bensen.
"The crowd came racing through like a tornado," Dubey said. "We had to keep the door open and keep pulling them in... it's the same you would do if there's a storm."
Dubey opened his door and allowed the protesters inside so they wouldn't be arrested, according to multiple people there.
Video taken from inside Dubey's home shows people coughing and one person holding a cloth to their eyes. The shot shows police gathered outside the door.
"They charged all the way up into this man's door and maced everybody coming into this house," one witness told News4 over the phone. "Thank goodness for us in the house we're safe, we're ok. But there's no way for us to get out of this house and not get arrested."
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the confrontation.
Donations of food and personal protective equipment came in overnight. Dubey accused police of intercepting pizza delivered to the house but said that the group inside eventually got some food.
D.C. police remained in contact with Dubey overnight, Newsham said.
Dubey said the people in his house ranged from 18 to 50 in age and called them "an amazing group of people that were gathered here peacefully."
The area had been blocked off but since reopened. Some police cruisers were spotted driving down Swann Street overnight but turned before they got to the house.
When asked if he was surprised that people opened their homes so readily, one neighbor said he wasn't at all.
"D.C. is definitely a very forward-thinking city but also it's very neighborly. We don't get enough credit for being neighborly. We show up for the people around us," he said.
The concern now is for the protesters' general health, especially in light of the pandemic. Under rules to slow the spread of coronavirus, groups of more than 10 people are banned in D.C.