When Buchi Enechionyia was a university student in Nigeria in the early 1980s, he protested the military regime. About 35 years later, on the night of 1st June, Enechionyia got a call from his son, Meka, who said he was in trouble at a protest in Washington, DC.
Remembering the protests of the 1980s, Enechionyia, 54, says, "We organised amongst ourselves, just young people, to educate about was going on in the government and the things they were doing wrong. We weren't trying to make names for ourselves or impress anybody, it was just something we believed in." Enechionyia's son has a similar activist spirit — on the night he called his dad, Meka was also standing up for what he believed in by joining the Black Lives Matter movement.
On this particular night, Meka and a few of his friends had taken to the busy streets of Washington, DC, to stand against police brutality. The 22-year-old musician and college student joined hundreds of protesters holding up signs painted with phrases such as “I can’t breathe, Mama” in remembrance of George Floyd, the unarmed Black man who was killed after a police officer knelt on his neck for about eight minutes.
Meka was protesting about 1,100 miles away from where Floyd was killed. But he felt compelled to take to the streets and make his voice heard in peaceful protest. “So many people of colour are living this life that most of America doesn’t even see or learn about,” he tells Refinery29. “As a Black man, it affects my life."
Hours before Meka called his father, around 6:30 p.m., chaos erupted in DC. Protesters near the White House were forcibly removed by police firing off gas canisters, just before Trump stood in front of St. John’s Episcopal holding up a Bible. (Attorney General William Barr contends that the removal of protesters had nothing to do with Trump's photo-op.)
Meka wasn't near the White House during the episode, but later at about 9 p.m., he found himself a little over a mile away on Swann Street. He and other protesters say that authorities used excessive force, forming police lines that prevented anyone from leaving a one-block stretch of the street.
“We were waiting for 20 or 30 minutes maybe, still peacefully protesting, trying to get them to let us out because we had nowhere to go,” Meka remembers.
Around 9:30, the officers started to move in, causing the crowd of mostly young people to condense. “They were trying to get us closer together, they were macing people and hitting people,” Meka says. “We were trapped.”
In a press conference on 3rd June, DC Metropolitan Police Chief Peter Newsham said that authorities believed the group was exhibiting actions “consistent with behaviour that preceded very violent events.” The department declined Refinery29’s request to comment further on the incident. The use of force is under investigation by the MDP's internal affairs bureau.
At some point in the melee, Meka saw a man waving people into his house, trying to get as many people inside, away from the mayhem, as possible. Meka followed a friend up the front steps.
The man, Meka would learn, was Rahul Dubey, a long-time DC resident who opened his doors to shelter about 70 protesters that night. “People were coughing and crying and we were pouring milk into people’s eyes trying to calm them down,” Meka says. “I personally was coughing a lot, ‘cause I got hit with mace.”
Once Meka knew he was safe, the first person he called was his father.
“When he told me he was going out that night, I thought maybe he should stay home,” Enechionyia tells Refinery29. “But at the same time, I thought it was necessary. It’s what he believes in and what we all believe in. You can’t wait for other people’s children to stand up while your son stays home.”
Enechionyia says he was on the phone with his son several times between 10 and 3 a.m., while Meka sheltered at Dubey’s home. When they hung up, he tried to read and watch movies to distract himself.
Meka finally left Swann Street at 6 a.m., as the sun rose and curfew ended. “He came home and was very tired,” Enechionyia says. “I let him sleep.” The next day, when they talked about what happened, Enechionyia says he told his son: “What happened is what happens to a lot of other people, so just be strong,” he says. “The very same afternoon, he went out to protest and take food to other protesters.”
“I'm very proud of him,” he continues. “And I told him that.”
Enechionyia says that seeing his son stand up for what he believes in took him back to protesting in Nigeria. “This is exactly what we were doing when we were young,” Enechionyia says.
Meka says didn't know about Enechionyia's time protesting until after the Swann Street incident. But since, it's come to light that the family has at least two strong generations of activists.
“I think what happened [on Swann Street], it’s made me more invested in the cause, which I didn’t know was possible,” Meka says. “It was one of the most important things that’s happened in my life so far.”
In the weeks since he left Dubey’s home, Meka says he’s continued to protest, although he’ll probably take Father’s Day off to have dinner or watch a movie with his dad. He says he’s keeping track of his feelings and emotions so he can express them through music.
Enechionyia says he continues to support his son, but tells him to “just be careful.”
“When I’m worried, I keep shooting him texts," he says.
hi, how you doing?
What’s going on?
“If I send a text and get no response, I call.”