A curfew put into effect after pro-Trump extremists took over the American Capitol Senate meant Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department (MDP) officers had nowhere to eat.
On January 6 when pro-Trump extremists launched an unprecedented siege on the U.S. Capitol, José Andrés did what he always does in a crisis: he found someone to feed.
After a mob that included MAGA-chanting conspiracy theorists mounted an insurrectionist takeover at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) and members of the National Guard from neighbouring states such as Maryland and Virginia were called in to back up the unprepared unit of federal Capitol police, who had earlier let Congress fall briefly under the control of the mob.
When D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser issued a 12-hour curfew that went into effect at 6 p.m., Andrés recognised that with restaurants closed, the group of responders would have nowhere to eat. And so he began posting videos of his efforts to deliver meals downtown.
At 10:19 p.m., Andrés posted a video to Twitter in which he stood in front of a Bethesda, Maryland, Domino’s, where he said he had ordered 120 pizzas and grabbed a World Central Kitchen truck to help deliver them to the National Guard, D.C. police, and cleanup crews downtown.
Those provisions went quickly, so Andrés opened the kitchen at Jaleo, his company’s Spanish restaurant in Penn Quarter. Around 2 a.m., World Central Kitchen CEO Nate Mook posted pictures to Twitter of Andrés frying eggs for sandwiches and WCK packaging to-go boxes of pasta. Mook later told Eater that Andrés and a small crew made around 700 meals for the responders.
“Hopefully on a very strange, complicated night, we’re going to make sure those young men and women, often forgotten, get taken care of,” Andrés said, while standing in front of the Bethesda Domino’s.
According to Mook, the WCK response began when Myra Jordan, an MPD officer who has volunteered with WCK during the pandemic and the 2019 federal government shutdown, told the relief organisation that some officers had been working for 30 straight hours straight to control the pro-Trump crowd, which had begun demonstrating on Tuesday night.
Mook said Jordan helped WCK set up distribution of meals specifically to MPD officers, the National Guard, and dump truck drivers, emphasising that the organisation did not feed the federal police unit primarily responsible for the debacle at the Capitol, which produced surreal images of rioters running amok inside the federal facility. Despite having around 2,000 officers at its disposal, the Capitol police needed two hours to clear the area and required backup from other authorities.
“It’s a very complex issue because Metro PD doesn’t have jurisdiction on federal property,” Mook says. “I think in turn it certainly sounded like they were taking a backseat role until [the breach].”
The lackluster response by the Pentagon — which oversees the D.C. National Guard — at the Capitol on Wednesday also led to widespread criticism from legislators, activists, and social media commenters that highlighted the disparities between the violence that officers had inflicted upon people of colour during racial justice demonstrations earlier and the light-handed approach they took with the majority-white crowd on January 6. Videos of the latter event captured the police appearing to remove gates for the rioters and gently escorting a woman in a Trump beanie down a set of stairs.
When reached Thursday morning, Mook was on his way back downtown, where he said WCK planned to make 500 lunches and additional 500 meals for MPD officers and response crews. He added that WCK is focused on supporting individuals who have been working overtime for the city.
“I think at the end of the day you just got to kind of focus on what’s happening on the ground,” Mook said. “Last night we had an attack on our city, and people that are attacking our government and our way of life. These officers that were there were there to protect and support.”
Despite its work providing disaster relief on a global scale, World Central Kitchen has come under fire for working with law enforcement before. In New York, immigrant-owned Oaxacan restaurant La Morada severed a partnership with WCK because it worked with the Department of Homeland Security and ICE while providing aid in Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria.
In a video Andrés posted to Twitter at 1 a.m., he acknowledged feeding the police in D.C. might garner more criticism.
“I know it’s a lot of controversies and everything, but we feed people,” the chef says in the video. “We feed anybody and everybody. We activate when there is need. Today police is maintaining my beautiful Washington D.C.’s safety.”