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Michigan lawmakers trapped as police clash with pro-Palestinian protesters in DC

Members of U.S. Capitol Police and protesters stand off outside the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee during a demonstration against the war between Israel and Hamas on Nov. 15, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. (Alex Wong/Getty Images/TNS)

Michigan Democratic U.S. Reps. Debbie Dingell and Hillary Scholten were briefly trapped with other lawmakers inside a Democratic National Committee building on Capitol Hill after a pro-Palestinian protest erupted outside and police clashed with demonstrators.

Dingell, an Ann Arbor Democrat, was among about 10 members of Congress, including Scholten and a member of House Democratic leadership, who were attending an event with Democratic congressional candidates Wednesday evening when they began hearing the chants of protesters outside, she said.

She tried to leave out of the building’s rear and front doors, but protesters were blocking the exits. At the front, police stopped Dingell, pointing to a medic treating a young female officer who had just been brought inside after having been pepper-sprayed, she said.

The lawmakers were trapped inside for about an hour before police evacuated them, Dingell said.

“This rattled me more than January 6th (attack) did,” Dingell told The Detroit News. “I was scared. Someone is going to get hurt at one of these things. They can get out of control.”

Organizers of the protest said people did get hurt ― claiming 90 demonstrators were injured and blaming police for “violently” shutting down their peaceful vigil without first warning them to disperse.

Injuries included being dragged down stairs, hit with police bicycles, pepper sprayed and one individual who is being treated for a concussion, organizers told reporters on a Thursday phone call.

“Instead of being able to actually talk to our elected officials and pray with them and sing with them and ask them for a cease-fire, the police shoved people down the steps,” said Rabbi Jessica Rosenberg of Minneapolis, a member of Jewish Voice for Peace and its Rabbinical Council.

“Our intent in blocking various entrances was to make one path for Congress people and elected officials coming and going, so that we could speak to them. We’ve been calling their offices every day for months, desperately trying to get meetings and … often ignored.”

Police said it was the protesters who were violent.

U.S. Capitol Police said officers were keeping back approximately 200 people who were “illegally and violently” protesting outside the DNC building in the area of Canal and Ivy streets in southeast Washington.

“We have handled hundreds of peaceful protests, but last night’s group was not peaceful. The crowd failed to obey our lawful orders to move back from the DNC, where Members of Congress were in the building,” U.S. Capitol Police said in a Thursday statement.

“When the group moved dumpsters in front of the exits, pepper sprayed our officers and attempted to pick up the bike rack, our teams quickly introduced consequences ― pulling people off the building, pushing them back, and clearing them from the area, so we could safely evacuate the Members and staff.”

Videos posted to social media showed officers trying to pull protesters in black shirts with “cease-fire now” on them away from the entrance to the building, which they were blocking. Another clip showed officers trying to shove the protesters away from the building.

Police eventually cleared the area. Six officers were treated for injuries, “ranging from minor cuts to being pepper sprayed to being punched,” according to officials.

One person, Ruben Arthur Camacho, 24, of Woodbridge, New York, was arrested for assault of a police officer after an officer witnessed him “slam another officer into a garage door and then punch the female officer in the face,” police said in the statement.

“Last night our team was quick, decisive, courageous and in control,” the statement read. “When demonstrations cross the line into illegal activity it is our responsibility to maintain order and ensure people’s safety.”

Scholten, D-Grand Rapids, said she was grateful to police for getting lawmakers and staff out of the DNC headquarters safely but she rejected claims that the demonstration was “peaceful.”

“We have witnessed countless nonviolent gatherings in Washington and across the globe this week and over the past month since the Israel-Hamas war began. Peace is possible,” Scholten said in a statement. “I condemn violence in all forms and urge my fellow Americans to use their voices, but not violence, when working for the change we want to see in the world.”

Rep. Sean Casten, D-Illinois, also was among the lawmakers evacuated from the building.

“You have the Constitutional right to peaceably assemble and protest. But blocking all entries to a building with multiple members of Congress in it, protected by Capitol Police officers who have lived through January 6, is putting you and other innocent people at risk,” Casten posted on X.

“We were rescued by armed officers who did not know the protestors’ intent; they knew only that Members of Congress were inside, could not leave and that protestors would not let police through. Forcing police to guess intent is irresponsible and dangerous.”

Rosenberg, the rabbi, countered that this was misinformation because it was “clear” why protesters were there, as they wore “cease-fire” shirts, were singing and laying out candles representing lost Palestinian lives.

At no time did any demonstrators try to enter the DNC building, in contrast to some claims made by lawmakers, Rosenberg said. Organizers also denied that protesters used violence or pepper spray against officers.

The groups participating in the protest included Jewish Voice for Peace Action, the Jewish group If Not Now and the Democratic Socialists of America, demanding a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war that they say a majority of Democrats support.

“I don’t understand why this escalated so quickly,” said Eva Borgwardt, political director for If Not Now. “This was a non-violent protest using similar tactics that I’ve seen used all month.”

Sumaya Awad, a member of DSA-NYC chapter, said in a statement that the Democratic Party “just showed exactly how it feels about its voters.”

“The Israeli military just stormed a hospital in Gaza, airstrikes have killed over 4,500 children, and water is running out,” Awad said.

“Over 80% of Democratic voters are demanding a cease-fire and brought that message of peace to party leadership, who responded by unleashing an incredibly violent police attack on them.”


© 2023

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