Now, dozens of police officers had them surrounded on Dubey’s narrow side street in Northwest Washington, cutting off each end of the block with bikes and transport vans.
Cornered and afraid, some protesters knelt. Others chanted, “Let us through!” Police drew closer.
After a tense 15-minute standoff, the officers pounced.
A volley of pepper spray and chemical projectiles sent the group scrambling for cover as police charged forward from both sides, grabbing some protesters and dragging them away.
Dubey, a 44-year-old health-care entrepreneur, said he didn’t have time to think as the chaos erupted. He flung open his door and let the crowd pour into his rowhouse.
“I was hanging on my railing yelling, ‘Get in the house! Get in the house!’” he told The Washington Post.
Within minutes, there were several dozen strangers inside. “The flow of people racing through, it was like a train getting derailed. Everyone was coughing and falling,” Dubey said.
Images and descriptions of the scene ricocheted across social media and in cable news streams around the country over the course of the night, transforming Dubey into a protest hero.
“I didn’t do anything. I just opened a door,” he said. “What they did was special. There’s nothing special about what I did.”
Once inside the three-story house, protesters set up a triage system to treat people seared by the pepper spray. Some went to the basement, others to the backyard. They splashed milk in each other’s eyes to stop the burning. When they ran out, neighbors passed fresh jugs over the fence.
Sam Troper was among those who fled inside. She said protesters watched from the window as police arrested those who remained in the streets, one by one.
“We were absolutely baffled as to why they were wasting so much of their force there,” the 24-year-old said. “There were looters in other part of the cities.”
After about an hour and a half, a calm settled in the home. Police were still assembled by the dozens outside, but nobody was going anywhere.
“Everyone is sitting, having conversations,” Troper reported at the time. “It would be a good time if the situation was not what it was.”
On the other side of the country, the owner of the home, Steven Maviglio, was anything but calm. He watched anxiously from his residence in Sacramento as the standoff on Swann Street grabbed national attention.
Maviglio, a longtime Democratic staffer and consultant, bought the house in the mid-1990s and lived in it for eight years before converting it into a rental unit handled by a property manager.
His life savings are tied up in the home, he said. Lots of memories, too. He worried about it being destroyed.
Around 11 p.m., he phoned Dubey. It was the first time they had ever spoken, he said.
“I just called and said, ‘Hey, I’m the person who owns the house. I just want to make sure it doesn’t burn to the ground,’ ” Maviglio told The Post.
Dubey assured him everyone inside was peaceful. Maviglio described the conversation as “very cordial” but said he went to sleep with images in his head of the house going up in flames.
“I appreciate what he did. I sympathize with the cause,” said Maviglio, 61. “But he wasn’t taking any risk by doing that. It was my property that he was putting at risk.”
Compounding his concerns, Maviglio said, is that Dubey is three months late on rent — a contention Dubey disputes. He said he had missed one month because his consulting work had dried up amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Maviglio said he was not planning to evict Dubey, but said he expected him to step up.
“I don’t mean to disparage the guy, as he’s being held up as this good Samaritan, but that also means paying your rent,” he said.
As the night dragged on, Dubey worried about the protesters getting hungry. He had five pounds of ground beef in his freezer, he said, but not much more.
At one point, he said, he went outside to ask police about their intentions. He wanted to arrange a food delivery.
He said the officers threatened to arrest if he didn’t go back inside. (D.C. police did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the incident.)
He went back in and told the protesters they should stay put until the curfew lifted at 6 a.m. “It’s hunker-down time,” he said.
On the back patio, protesters could hear police on the other side of the fence trying to get the protesters to come out, said Sarah Feldmann, a protester who took shelter inside.
“Police were in the alley for most of the night, kind of baiting us,” she recalled. “They said, ‘If you come out, we’ll work with you; it’ll be fine.’ But we didn’t believe them.”
In the early hours of Tuesday morning, police allowed a pizza delivery through the barricades. Later, fruit and coffee were passed over the fence.
By dawn, the group learned they’d be able to go home without being arrested. They arranged rides through friends and fellow activists. They cheered Dubey on the way out.
“I’m so grateful for Rahul. It made me really proud of our city,” Troper said.
By late morning Tuesday, the phalanxes of police outside Dubey’s house had been replaced by television news crews. Supporters left gifts on his steps: flowers, a portrait of Floyd, thank-you cards and a bottle of Woodford Reserve bourbon.
Dubey’s neighbor to the left, Stephanie Hernandez, 33, said she supported Dubey’s actions. “It showed me how easy it is to use any privilege I have to help others,” she said.
Down the block, Ed Szrom, 74, was more apprehensive.
“It’s not something I’d do,” he said of Dubey’s actions. “I wouldn’t let that many strangers inside at one time.”
Sitting in his living room Tuesday afternoon, Dubey had changed into a blue pinstriped shirt and combed his salt-and-pepper black hair for what would be a day of seemingly endless interviews.
Peering out the window at the line of news cameras, he said he still hasn’t had time to process what unfolded. Protesters offered to Venmo him money for any damage, but he said he refused. They felt like family now.
Michael E. Miller contributed to this report.