Tense situation on Swann Street in DC. Cops surrounded protesters and started firing pepper spray. A resident let more than 100 protesters take shelter in his home. “I’m not letting any of these kids out of my sight,” he told me over the phone. pic.twitter.com/Bk6NOIbAwf— Derek Hawkins (@D_Hawk) June 2, 2020
“Rahul is amazing,” Sarah Feldmann, one of the protesters who took shelter in Dubey’s home, said in an interview Tuesday morning.
Feldmann was on her balcony at 14th and Chapin streets when several hundred protesters streamed past at around 9 p.m. on Monday, chanting “March with us, stand with us.”
The 31-year-old, who works in Democratic Party politics, decided to join.
When the march reached the corner of 15th and S streets, however, a line of D.C. police officers was blocking the road. Someone who seemed like an organizer suggested the protesters head west on Swann Street. But within a few seconds, the marchers realized that they were now boxed in by officers in riot gear on all sides.
“We were trapped,” Feldmann recalled.
“Let us go, let us go,” the protesters chanted.
Instead, after a 15-minute standoff, the police suddenly surged forward, pushing protesters with their shields and spraying gas.
As they tried to get away, around 60 of them found an unlikely escape: Dubey’s handsome rowhouse.
He choked up Monday as he said he saw protesters injured in clashes with police.
“It was a human tsunami,” he said. “I was hanging on my railing yelling, ‘Get in the house! Get in the house!’ ”
He said a “crowd came racing through like a tornado” and he “flung the door open and let them inside.” He added: “I opened a door. You would have done the same thing.”
At first, the scene inside was almost as chaotic as on the street. Officers were spraying gas through the open front door and windows, Feldmann said. Once the doors and windows were closed, Dubey guided the gassed protesters to his basement kitchen or the back patio, where they began to wash out their eyes with water and milk. When the milk ran out, Dubey’s neighbors passed more over the fence.
All the while, the protesters worried police were going to break down the door and arrest them, as they were arresting protesters who had been trapped outside. At one point, a police official came to the door, claiming someone inside had called 911, but Dubey turned him away. At another point, someone claiming to be a protester knocked at the door, but those inside worried it was a police infiltrator.
I’m at a house in DC after being pepper sprayed and knocked down by the police. There are about 100 of us in a house surrounded by cops. All the neighbors on this street opened their doors and are tending to protesters. The cops corralled us on this street and sprayed us down.— Allison Lane (@allieblablah) June 2, 2020
On the back patio, protesters could hear police on the other side of the fence trying to get the protesters to come out, Feldmann said.
“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.”
At least one protester jumped the patio fence, she said, adding that she wasn’t sure if the person was arrested or escaped.
As it eventually became clear that police weren’t going to raid the house, those still inside settled in for a long wait until curfew ended.
“People were just kind of mingling around, chatting, making videos, instagrams,” Feldmann said. Some protesters were talking to legal aid groups outside and relaying information to others, passing around markers to write the number of attorneys on their arms in case arrested. One woman began organizing cars to pick protesters up at 6 a.m., when the curfew was lifted.
At one point, pizza arrived, the boxes passed over the back patio fence and devoured by the protesters spread all over the house.
Feldmann curled up in a corner of the basement, catching about an hour of sleep before waking at 4:30 a.m. Breakfast arrived not long after: bananas and poptarts slid through the mail slot.
“It was really nice,” Feldmann said of her banana nut muffin.
When protesters began warily stepping out of the house at 6 a.m., there were no longer any police nearby.
Instead, they were greeted by supporters and neighbors.
Feldmann, who is white, said she was startled by the police’s reaction.
“I’ve been to a lot of protests. It’s striking how different it feels when it’s led by black voices,” she said, noting the deference police have paid to heavily armed white people protesting coronavirus stay-at-home orders.
Dubey said on NBC 4 that it was an “amazing group of people” in his home. He said protesters left when the curfew ended at 6 a.m.“They were doing nothing wrong other than to build a future that they want and that I want,” Dubey said.
Feldmann praised Dubey for helping the protesters, adding that several of them had offered to help their host with his small business in thanks for his hospitality.
“He’s going to get a lot of gift baskets,” she said. “We know where he lives.”