The first thing I noticed was the motorcade: seven or eight black SUV’s, passing my car on the left, about a block away from my daughter’s preschool, where I was headed to pick her up. They continued past the barriers police barriers closing the street to other traffic, and I followed the diverted stream on to a stretch of Massachusetts Avenue populated mostly by two-story red-brick consulates and embassies.
As my car approached Sheridan Circle, a roundabout a block north of the detour, I noticed three or four clumps of people tumbling onto its grass, in small tornadoes of flying fists. Each group consisted of three or four men beating or kicking a single person they had surrounded. I was immediately struck by the fact that their blows were landing, with precision and terrible force. Anyone who’s seen a street fight knows how unusual it is for more than a punch or two to find its mark, but these men were not swinging wildly. This was not a street fight.
An older man in a white, button-down shirt was being beaten and kicked by three younger men in suits, a young woman was being kicked by two men, and another woman was lying on the ground holding her head in pain.
As I my view of the circle opened up I noticed a group of about 50 people, many of them carrying large Turkish flags, gathered on a corner behind a phalanx of 10 or 15 DC police officers in helmets, some of them swinging clubs at people as they spilled out of the group towards the roundabout. Sirens were now screaming from several directions, and the roundabout quickly filled with police cars and black SUVs. I was stuck with maybe 20 other cars in the circle, and watched as skirmishes continues to break out among the crowds around the circle.
My instinct was of course to move away from the violence and I feared there had to be a gun there somewhere (later, video of the incident indeed showed one man in a suit with a gun kicking a person on the ground) but I was trapped in a river of traffic moving first towards it then around it, providing me with a weirdly cinematic experience as I sat behind the relative quiet and safety of my windshield.
Several blocks beyond the circle, the traffic finally opened up enough for me to pull over and call my daughter’s school to alert them to what I’d seen.
It was only after I’d made the call that I noticed how fast my heart was beating.