Sometime before 9 PM Monday night, as law enforcement dispersed protesters amid a citywide curfew, neighbors on Swann Street in Logan Circle started seeing throngs of demonstrators flowing peacefully by. But then officers began closing in on the typically quiet, one-way street, and things turned tense. Dozens, if not hundreds, of people were confined to the block between 14th and 15th streets, Northwest. One resident, 44-year-old Rahul Dubey, threw open the front door of his rowhouse and began yelling at the protesters to get inside. In a conversation with Washingtonian Tuesday morning, Dubey, a healthcare executive, recounted the night that followed, as he let dozens of strangers shelter in his home until the curfew lifted at 6 AM:
“I’m getting text messages and calls [this morning] from the random 70 strangers who are now family who sheltered with me. It’s making me feel really good that I know they’re home safe. Knowing that they’re okay, it’s keeping me awake.
“It’s just shocking that the first question people are asking me is ‘Why did you let strangers into your home?’ I know in my heart of hearts that you would open the door, too. I hope so. Otherwise, what are we doing?
“I was standing on my stoop, because there were 40 cops at the end of the street. I live about four houses in. There was a little bit of a gathering outside my house. One person asked if they could sit on my stoop. One asked about using the bathroom.
“Then they were bottlenecked. The cops pinned them in, and it became a powder keg. There were booms and screams. A hundred people raced into my house within ten minutes. It was a human tsunami. These twentysomethings, thirtysomethings, fortysomethings that didn’t know each other at all—they were perfect strangers. They were talking to each other, consoling each other, rinsing each other’s eyes out while the police sprayed tear gas in through the windows. The police were spraying tear gas into my home. It was for an hour.
“Once I was able to secure the house and get everyone inside, I ran downstairs and upstairs to open the windows. People were washing their faces in my bathtub and outside with a hose. For an hour and a half, it was pure mayhem. The police were taunting us through the windows. I was running from level to level. There was a lot of coughing. Covid was running through my head. Half had masks, the other half did not.
“It wasn’t fear, it was mayhem. No one could understand what was happening.
“An hour and a half into it, the air cleared from the pepper spray. Then people were looking around saying, ‘What’s happening? Why did they pin us into Swann Street?’ They were supporting each other. They were blaming themselves. I can’t believe how much they were blaming themselves, saying, ‘We took the wrong route.’ Or ‘We should’ve been able to keep our heads up.’
“I was trying to get their minds off it. We started talking shoes. I did a social-impact program in Medellín, Colombia, where we launched a shoe company. So I was telling them these stories about that. They’re entrepreneurs themselves. They were talking about how they wanted to make a shoe to memorialize what had happened. We stayed up together all night. It was a shelter, it was a sanctuary.”
Note: Asked for comment, the DC Metropolitan Police Department referred Washingtonian to Chief Peter Newsham’s Tuesday press conference, during which he addressed the Swann Street incident, saying, “We’ll go back and take a very, very close look to ensure that the police were respectful and responsible, professional and constitutional.” Asked at the press conference whether pepper spray had been deployed inside a home, Newsham said he will have to review body-worn police cameras before he can answer “with 100 percent certainty,” but that officials on the scene told him it had not been.
Interview has been lightly edited for clarity.