WASHINGTON (AP) — Police and protesters clashed outside Democratic National Committee headquarters on Wednesday night during a demonstration for a cease-fire in Gaza, the latest reflection of boiling tensions over the bloody conflict.
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 neighbourhood of Washington. But protesters blamed police for the violence, saying officers rushed them without warning.
“It is shameful the way that nonviolent protesters and members of our community were met with violence tonight,” said Dani Noble, who came from Philadelphia for the demonstration. “It is absolutely shameful.”
Noble said police, some of whom were wearing riot gear, started “pulling on folks that are disabled or have chronic illnesses, pulling people to the ground.”
Inside the Democratic headquarters, police rushed into the reception and directed lawmakers to the basement, according to Representative Brad Sherman, D-Calif. Some were later evacuated in police vehicles.
Capitol Police said six officers were treated for minor injuries and one protester was arrested for assaulting an officer. Video posted on social media showed shoving and scuffles as police moved in.
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.
Sherman accused protesters of trying to break into the Democratic headquarters in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter. However, protesters denied that was their intention.
The protest was organised by a coalition of groups, including If Not Now and Jewish Voice for Peace Action, that have spearheaded other demonstrations in Washington and elsewhere.
Wednesday’s clashes were the latest example of roiling tensions over the war between Palestine and the apartheid regime.
Last week, a large number of House Democrats joined nearly all Republicans in voting to censure Representative Rashida Tlaib, the only Palestinian American in Congress, over her criticism of the apartheid state government’s treatment of Palestinians. Tlaib, who has family in the West Bank, came under heavy criticism for not immediately condemning Hamas after the attack. She has since called out the militant group while also calling for a cease-fire.
President Joe Biden has also faced increasing pressure from the Democratic Party’s left flank over his support for the apartheid regime’s military operation. He has resisted calls for a cease-fire, instead saying there should be pauses in the fighting to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance and the potential extraction of hostages.
Among the participants Wednesday night was Rabbi Jessica Rosenberg, who interrupted 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.”