Ceasefire vigil at DNC headquarters met with police violence
A police officer shoots pepper spray directly into the face of an activist attending a ceasefire vigil outside the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in Washington Wednesday evening. | Photo by Ryan Harvey / via Jewish Voice for Peace Action

WASHINGTON—Over 11,000 candles representing the Palestinians killed so far during Israel’s war on Gaza burned brightly Wednesday night outside the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee. They were lit by a group of predominantly Jewish protesters, organized by the groups Jewish Voice for Peace Action, If Not Now, and DSA, as part of an interfaith vigil.

With Democratic Party elected representatives, candidates, and staff inside attending a fundraiser put on by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, demonstrators blocked the entrance to the building in order to pressure representatives into calling for an immediate ceasefire.

But instead of being met with the receptive ears of politicians, the vigil attendees were met with police violence.

People attend a ceasefire vigil at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee Wednesday. | Nathan Howard / AP

Wearing shirts that said “Ceasefire now,” linking arms, and singing, protesters peacefully attempted to engage Democratic officials in a discussion about U.S. support for the Netanyahu government in Israel and the need for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

Along with the message of ceasefire, the assembled group said they wanted the U.S. to facilitate a hostage exchange and ensure that humanitarian aid reaches besieged Gazans.

Capitol Police were called to the scene, however, and after refusing to speak with the demonstrators’ police liaison and trampling on the candles representing the Palestinian dead, they rushed and attacked protestors.

Video footage from the scene showed police, some in riot gear, physically throwing protesters down the stairs in front of the Democratic headquarters, pepper-spraying them, and shoving them to the ground. Capitol Police claimed that people at the vigil were violent and pepper-sprayed officers, but the video depicted the peaceful nature of the demonstration.

Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., also accused the demonstrators of violence and claimed they were “pro-terrorist.” Many saw his charge as an attempt to deflect criticism of the complicity of the Democratic Party’s top elected officials in Netanyahu’s war—right up to the White House.

The groups that organized the vigil have adamantly denied the use of pepper spray by anyone but police and maintain that police were responsible for the escalation of the situation.

One D.C. peace activist who was involved in the vigil, Jason, who preferred not to provide a last name, told People’s World that the event was proceeding peacefully. Demonstrators had positioned themselves at the alley, the garage, and the front entrance of the DNC building in an effort to bring their ceasefire message to the people going to the fundraiser.

He said that the situation only deteriorated when police officers began pulling and shoving protesters in an attempt to de-link them from one another. Officers, “smirking and goading us to swing back,” pulled out batons and used them to shove people, throwing others onto the concrete, Jason said.

Protesters were pushed into the street, with some being shoved into parked cars. When an older demonstrator fell to the ground, police prevented others from helping her get up, according to Jason.

“Once the cops got started, they kept going and going…not even communicating with one another…to the point that we had one group of officers behind us, one group in front of us, shoving us in both directions.” This police disorganization continued, Jason said, until it led to the injury of their own officers.

Some of the 11,000 candles representing Palestinians killed in Israel’s war lie strewn and trampled in front of the DNC headquarters after police violently cleared a ceasefire vigil Wednesday evening. | AP

The violent reception they received at the DNC has not deterred organizers. With Republican elected officials in total lockstep behind Netanyahu’s violence against Palestinians, activists hope that more Democrats can be won over to the ceasefire demand and put pressure on their leader in the White House.

“With every passing minute that President Biden and the Democratic Party refuse to heed the calls of their voters and demand a ceasefire, more Palestinians in Gaza are being killed by Israeli airstrikes and siege,” Beth Miller, the political director of JVP Action, said in a statement immediately after the clash at Democratic headquarters.

“Tonight, hundreds of peaceful anti-war activists came to the DNC to call for an end to bombs and violence in order to save Palestinian and Israeli lives. They were met with brutal assaults by the police.”

Miller put the question directly, “The Democrats need to decide: Will they stand on the side of peace and justice, or will they continue to support war and genocide?”


Bennett Shoop
Bennett Shoop

Bennett Shoop is Washington, D.C.-based activist for the LGBTQ+ community and the Claudia Jones School for Political Education.