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As police in Washington, D.C., pepper-sprayed protesters, Rahul Dubey opened his home to 70 strangers

Protesters found refuge and connection with the help of residents who let them stay the night.
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The long night started with sirens and screams and ended with cheers once morning came.

A collection of protesters in Washington, D.C., forced from the streets Monday by tear gas and rubber bullets and a 7 p.m. curfew, found refuge in homes on Swann Street NW about a mile from the White House.

A nearby resident, Danielle Misiak, described it as a street with "the cutest row houses, large trees and wide-brick sidewalks" where "nothing ever happens." But residents and protesters faced a different reality Monday night.

A Twitter user going only by his first name, Meka, 22, was one of the protesters who found refuge on Swann Street. He said he and a friend joined the city's protest around 6 p.m.

"This was definitely the most peaceful group I've been with in the past few days," he said.

As in many other cities, dozens of people continued to stay on the streets after the curfew went into effect. One of the protesters, Allison Lane, said law enforcement officers started breaking up large groups of protesters and pushing them in different directions. They were originally on 14th Street but were eventually "corralled" down 15th Street and then finally Swann Street, Lane said.

Other social media users reported being "trapped" on that street, with officers blocking off all exits. At one point, Misiak, said that she, along with other neighbors, watched 13 kids outnumbered and surrounded by police and National Guard officers. "It was like they were responding to a bomb threat," Misiak said.

Some eventually found refuge in homes, including the home of Rahul Dubey.

"At some point, without warning, they just started pushing the protesters and then pepper-spraying them. At that time, I got pushed down, and somebody just kind of picked me up, and we just heard 'Go, go go!' And somebody was just, like, corralling us to Rahul's house."

Dubey told NBC Washington that he was pepper-sprayed, too, and that people were "decimated and beaten on the steps of my house.”

"I don't think there was even a choice in what I did, to be honest," Dubey said.

"The crowd just came racing through like a tornado. ... We had to keep the door open and just kept grabbing people and pulling them in. It’s the same that you would if it's a storm, and you would have let anyone into your home, I know that."

Lane, who spoke to NBC News on Tuesday, minutes before the curfew was lifted at 6 a.m., said the protesters counted up to 70 people crowded into different rooms in Dubey's home.

"We've all been up all night, we're very tired, unnerved," Lane said. "I think we're running on pure adrenaline."

It was a long night of waiting and watching. Lane and Meka both documented experiences in which officers continued to keep an eye on protesters and stayed outside the home throughout the night. Meka said officers even sprayed into the doorway, while people were entering Dubey's home. His video shows people inside coughing and reacting to the pepper spray used by officers.

"We were still worried, because we didn't know if the police was going to be able to come in," Meka said.

Police Chief Peter Newsham addressed the Swann Street situation briefly Tuesday, saying officers took action because they " started to see behavior that was consistent with the behavior that preceded the very violent activity that we had on the two nights before."

There were over 300 arrests in D.C. on Monday night, about 200 of them on Swann Street. The majority of those arrested were accused of violating the curfew, but some people were arrested on suspicion of burglary and rioting, according to Newsham. He suggested that measures like pepper spray were used for crowd control only if "anybody rushes a line," and he said arrests were made after multiple warnings.

"We had what was an indication of an escalation of potential violence in the city," Newsham said. "We had a large group that was moving in violation of the curfew."

He added, "Some of the information that was put out on Twitter and other social media platforms was completely inaccurate, at least from what we saw."

Yet with the heavy police presence outside, protesters found solidarity in Dubey's home. Meka said that they spent the first hour using milk and baking soda-water mixtures to help rinse their eyes but that they later exchanged stories and shared pizza — first ordered by Dubey, but then 20 to 30 boxes that were donated by people keeping up with their plight on social media. People also donated masks and helped coordinate rides to take everyone home in the morning.

"Everybody was kind of on edge," Meka said. "But once we relaxed, we started talking. It was pretty cool, actually, because nobody knew each other. But we all realized we were there for the same reason, and we all realized we were going to be there all night. There really wasn't much ice to break."

He said the group in Dubey's home was a diverse crowd.

"Towards the beginning, I would say, someone actually mentioned how there were people of every race in the house," Meka said. "Everybody was looking at it and just agreeing that it was an amazing thing that we all came together to fight for one cause."

Some protesters ended up sharing their contact information, creating connections as they took shelter in a stranger's home and waited for morning to come.

Meka said they all signed a book for Dubey, with their names and numbers, "if he ever needs anything or wants to bring the group together again."

"Everybody treated each other with respect, because everybody's out there to fight for a cause that's bigger than them," Meka said. "And you could see the humility in the room, really, when people interacted with each other, the manners that we treated each other with, and just mutual respect for each other — it was pretty touching."