Meka, 22, was protesting peacefully in Washington, DC, Monday night when he suddenly found himself “trapped” by police officers on either end of Swann Street in northwest DC.
Police “just started charging” at the peaceful protesters, pepper-spraying them, and “pushing and hitting” them, Meka said.
In the chaos, Meka, who only wished to be identified by his first name to protect his privacy, turned around and saw a man open his door to let demonstrators in.
Meka, along with dozens of other protesters, ran into the home of Rahul Dubey and spent more than eight hours inside his house to avoid being arrested by Metropolitan Police Department officers.
As largely peaceful protests against police brutality continued across the country, police violently attacked protesters in Philadelphia and Washington, DC, on Monday evening. In DC, police gassed a large crowd of peaceful protesters outside the White House on Monday evening so that President Donald Trump could get a photo op outside a damaged church.
MPD Chief Peter Newsham said Tuesday that his officers had “stopped” a large group of people on Swann Street to arrest them for violating the curfew. Officers arrested 194 protesters in the 1400 block of Swann Street on Monday night and early Tuesday, Newsham said.
Newsham said that around 9 p.m. on Monday, his officers saw “an indication of escalation of potential violence” by the large group of protesters moving in Northwest DC in violation of the curfew.
“Officers saw behavior consistent with behavior that preceded the very violent activity two night before when we actually had a Metropolitan Police Department that was set on fire,” Newsham said.
He said officers stopped the group on Swann Street where they made "significant arrests of multiple folks who were in violation of the curfew," adding that the arrests were made as “safely and respectfully as possibly" and that the use of pepper spray was "limited."
However, Dubey, a 44-year-old Indian American, who sheltered more than 60 protesters inside his home on Swann Street through the night to prevent them from being arrested, described it as “a hostage situation.”
Dubey told BuzzFeed News that it wasn’t a choice to open his door and provide refuge to the mostly young protesters.
“If you had seen what was going on in front of my eyes, there was no choice,” he said. “People were getting pepper-sprayed and beaten and slammed to the ground.”
He said he flung his door open for several minutes as a “tsunami” of protesters fled from the police officers to the safety of Dubey’s 1,500-square-foot home.
Even as protesters began streaming into Dubey's home, officers pepper-sprayed them, he said.
For about an hour and a half, it was “mayhem” inside, Dubey said. People were spread out upstairs, downstairs, in the backyard and in the kitchen, pouring milk and water on each other’s faces.
“I went upstairs to the bathroom and people were running water in the tub, splashing water on their faces,” Dubey said. “It was pure bedlam in here as the police had just unleashed hell and pinned these people in.”
“It was chaotic,” Meka said. “People were screaming, crying, and coughing.”
But then, Dubey said, “some magic took place.”
The air cleared, the pepper spray dissipated, and the protesters, who were complete strangers, began talking and trying to figure things out, Dubey said.
He said he ordered five or six pizzas from his favorite pizza place because people were starving inside. However, he said the police “hijacked” his pizza order by refusing to let it be delivered to the front of his house.
“I had to do a covert pizza operation,” Dubey said with a laugh.
Meka said that thanks to Dubey and people on the internet, the protesters had enough pizzas delivered to them through the night, with some boxes being delivered to them over the fence in the backyard.
Outside the refuge of Dubey’s home, however, officers had “cornered” other protesters in a “little square” by pushing them closer together and arresting them one by one, Meka said.
A Washington Post reporter at the scene said the dozens of cops had "blocked off" the street and were "loading" protesters into police vans.
According to protesters, a few other houses on the block also took in some protesters.
Meka, Dubey, and some other protesters on social media accused the officers of trying to enter the house by saying that someone inside the home had called 911 for a medical emergency.
Responding to the allegations of protesters on social media, MPD Chief Newsham said “some of the information put out on Twitter and other social media platforms was completely inaccurate.”
He added, “When you have those type of allegations, we’re going to take a very close look that police were respectful and professional in conducting those arrests.”
As videos of the incident spread across social media through early Tuesday, Francisco Alvarez, a 28-year-old economist in DC, became increasingly concerned about the protesters trapped on Swann Street and began to mobilize his social media network for help.
Alvarez told BuzzFeed News that he and other volunteers managed to get around 20 cars to carpool the protesters home from Swann Street after the curfew lifted at 6 a.m.
“There was a collective sigh of relief once the protesters were able to get out of the houses,” Alvarez told BuzzFeed News.
Meka said that while he was relieved to get out of the house after eight hours, it was still nerve-racking.
“We didn’t know if there were officers waiting and hiding and trying to draw us out,” Meka said. However, at the time, there were no officers around and the protesters who had taken refuge inside Dubey's house managed to leave Swann Street without being arrested.
Newsham confirmed that those who were in Dubey’s house were “ultimately not arrested.”
Some praised Dubey's actions on social media.
“I think 95% of people in this world would have absolutely held that door open and would have grabbed people into any sort of shelter if they had seen what I had seen,” Dubey said.
He said the protesters walked out with their heads held high and would go back out to protest the minute they were allowed to do it peacefully.
“They’re the ones out there who got sprayed. I just held a door open,” he said. “They’re the heroes. They are America.”