At least six police officers were wounded in pro-Palestinian demonstrations outside the national headquarters of the Democratic Party in a melee that forced a lockdown of nearby offices of the US Congress in Washington on Wednesday.
The demonstrations were led by the far-left anti-Zionist groups IfNotNow and Jewish Voice for Peace.
The protesters were calling for Israel to cease its operations against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, launched in the wake of the terror group’s shock October 7 assault on southern Israel that killed some 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and saw some 240 hostages taken to Gaza.
Scores of Democratic representatives and candidates, including House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, were inside the building for a campaign reception when it was interrupted by chanting outside. Protesters said they wanted to block entrances and exits to force politicians to encounter their candlelight vigil and their calls for an end to the fighting. Many of them wore black shirts saying “Cease Fire Now.”
However, the situation swiftly devolved. US Capitol Police said about 150 people were “illegally and violently protesting” in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington. But protesters blamed police for the violence, saying officers rushed them without warning.
Police escorted legislators who were at the Democratic National Committee (DNC) offices at the time out of the building to safety.
Six police officers were treated for injuries “ranging from minor cuts to being pepper sprayed to being punched,” Capitol Police said later in the evening after protesters were cleared out.
Video posted on social media showed shoving and scuffles as police moved in.
Utter chaos outside the DNC HQ in Washington DC pic.twitter.com/ZAXYp3LMQM
— Jack Poso ???????? (@JackPosobiec) November 16, 2023
Inside the Democratic headquarters, police rushed into the reception and directed lawmakers to the basement, according to Rep. Brad Sherman. Some were later evacuated in police vehicles.
“Was just evacuated from the #DNC after pro-terrorist, anti-#Israel protestors grew violent, pepper spraying police officers and attempting to break into the building,” Sherman posted on X, formerly Twitter.
“Thankful to the police officers who stopped them and for helping me and my colleagues get out safely,” wrote Sherman, a Democrat.
Another legislator, Sean Casten of Illinois, chided the protesters for “blocking all entries to a building with multiple members of Congress in it,” which he said left police dangerously unaware of their intent.
Casten posted on X that he, too, was “rescued by armed officers.”
However, protesters denied their intention was to break into the building.
Jewish Voice for Peace Action posted to X that “police violently assaulted peaceful anti-war protestors” who were calling for a ceasefire.
“This is the response from the US government to those of us calling for the protection and preciousness of Palestinian lives,” the group wrote.
If Not Now said in a statement that police “violently attacked” protesters causing over 90 injures “ranging from being pepper sprayed, dragged by the hair, choked, thrown down stairs, and punched in the face.”
Protesters also accused police of being the only ones to use pepper spray and posted to social media a photograph of an officer apparently spraying a demonstrator in the face.
I took this photo and can confirm that the only pepper spray was from the police, who rolled up and started throwing punches and shoving people to the ground immediately. https://t.co/kbJ5H8tg4w
— Ryan Harvey (@ryanharveysongs) November 16, 2023
Security agents ordered lawmakers and their staff in buildings near the US Capitol, close to the DNC building, to stay inside.
“Significant demonstration activity, no entry or exit is permitted at this time. You may move throughout the buildings,” a security alert said.
The Metropolitan Police Department said its officers also responded to the disturbance. Congressional staffers received an alert telling them no one would be permitted to enter or exit any House office buildings, but authorities later reopened the entrances.
Among the participants Wednesday night was Rabbi Jessica Rosenberg, who had interrupted US President Joe Biden’s speech at a recent fundraiser in Minneapolis.
She said Democrats are “not listening to the people who they claim to represent,” adding that “actions like this are only going to increase.”
“We are not slowing down,” she said. “The call for a ceasefire is going to keep growing. And our representatives need to take action, yesterday.”
The demonstration came a day after some 300,000 people gathered on the National Mall in a pro-Israel rally.
Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas and remove it from power in Gaza where the group has ruled since 2007.
Israel has said there will not be a ceasefire without the release of the hostages, and that a ceasefire would merely aid Hamas and help it regroup and replenish its stocks. The US has supported Israel in its stance, but is instead promoting the use of humanitarian pauses for the entry of aid into the beleaguered Gaza Strip and to allow civilians to evacuate from the battle-zone northern part of the enclave, where Hamas has many of its strongholds.
Reuters reported Wednesday that Israel is considering agreeing to a three-day pause in the fighting in return for the release of 50 hostages.
The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said Wednesday that 11,500 people had been killed in Gaza since the start of the war, including at least 4,710 children and 3,160 women. The figures cannot be independently verified and do not distinguish between civilians and terrorists, and also do not differentiate between those killed by Israeli airstrikes and those killed by failed Palestinian rocket launches.