When Kenosha Burned

Local business owners describe what it was like to watch rioters destroy their establishments by setting fires, breaking windows, and looting.

Scenes of looting and fires have been inescapable this summer as peaceful protests have given way to violence in cities across America, most recently in Kenosha, Wisconsin, after police shot Jacob Blake in the back seven times and left him paralyzed. 

Those images hit home for some more than others. Pamela “Sue” Moniz watched her business, Sue and Keith’s Magical Mattress Store, burn to the ground in Kenosha on August 24. “We were watching on a live feed and could see the group—who I'm sure was not from this community—approaching our business in uptown and decided to get there as as quickly as we could to see what we could do to prevent any further loss, and they had already assaulted a dear friend who had also rushed to the scene,” Pamela Moniz The Dispatch.

Moniz found Robert Cobb, a friend who had helped out at the store for years, lying in a pool of his own blood. A very graphic video—that has now been viewed more than 2.9 million times on Twitter—showed that Cobb, who is 71, had tried to fend off rioters with a fire extinguisher. He fell to the ground quickly after he was assaulted from behind by a rioter who hit his head with a concrete-filled water bottle. The blow broke his jaw in two places and split open his nose, and he suffered severe bleeding from a laceration on his face. “I called 9-1-1 immediately and then I realized, just looking out, that they wouldn't be able to get an ambulance there,” Moniz said. “I don’t know that they would even send an ambulance—just the mobs of people. So it took some very creative driving to even be able to get him to the hospital.”

“It's so surreal, and it's so indescribable, and it's nothing that I hope anyone ever has to experience,” Moniz said.“But it's something I'll never forget.” Moniz said she wishes she could describe the feeling she got once she realized her business was burned down for good. “We were good to that community, and we helped that community, and we tried to take care of our neighbors,” she said. “And that's why I know that this wasn't done by anyone from our community.”

Another Kenosha businesswoman shares Moniz’s sentiment that the violence is being caused by rioters from outside the city.

Lyna Postuchow, a Kenosha resident who has owned A Summer’s Garden Florist in uptown Kenosha for almost 14 years, said she watched in real time as the rioters closed in on her business. “We knew that it wasn’t going to be good,” Postuchow said. “You're watching, you’re watching, you’re watching,” she said as she described eying the security footage surrounding her storefront on August 24. “We spent a long night back and forth between live feeds and our security that pinpoints at our window,” she said, “And one flipped over to the security and our windows were all smashed.” 

“It was really hard to stay home and not know what was going to happen for the rest of that night,” Postuchow said.

Postuchow described her harrowing experience watching rioters smash in the windows and front door to her storefront. “I think she just gave up after six or seven great whacks,” Postuchow said of the rioter who bashed in her flower shop on camera. “She completely destroyed the door,” Postuchow said, adding that the window of her storefront was smashed in “like a little guillotine.” “Not to say I’m lucky, but they took what they could reach from the window—I think they were too afraid to climb through the window. It looked dangerous.”

“These were not people from Kenosha,” Postuchow said of the protesters. “These are people who came in because they saw an opportunity.”

According to a spokesperson from the Kenosha Police Department, a total of 175 people were arrested between August 24 and August 30. She said 69 people were arrested for curfew violations only, and 34 people were arrested for curfew and additional charges, like concealed carry weapons, burglary, or possession of controlled substances. Of the 175 people who were arrested during that time frame, 102 of them were listed as hailing from outside of Kenosha.

The economic shutdowns necessitated by the pandemic have left businesses vulnerable enough without having to deal with the added expenses that come from rebuilding a business. Jim DeGrazio closed his business, Treasures Within, for three months. Last week, he watched protesters inflict significant damage.

“They broke all the windows, the door, they started a fire upfront in the store, stole a whole bunch of everything,” he said. 

He described feeling “powerless” while he watched the rioters close in on his business. “I saw them around the corner and then the building next door and then on the stream I heard my alarm going off,” DeGrazio said of his experience watching his business go up in flames. “There's nothing you can do,” he said. 

DeGrazio is unsure how he will be able to recover financially from all of the damage that was inflicted on the building. “There's no insurance that covers any of this,” he said. “This is all out of pocket.” DeGrazio said he expects the window repair to cost about $6,000 at a minimum. “We're probably going to exceed $10,000,” DeGrazio said. “This is my sole source of income,” DeGrazio’s GoFundMe fundraising page reads.

The Monizes also have a GoFundMe, which was set up by a friend, to pay for Cobb’s medical expenses and to help them relocate. Moniz said she sympathizes with the goal of peaceful demonstrations but hopes that people will stop resorting to violence as a means to that end.“I understand the peaceful protesters, I understand the people who are passionate to end the inequity between the races, and the people who desperately want change. We need to change. But the people who turn to violence are getting in the way of that message. They're not letting the necessary message be heard,” she said while holding back tears. “They’re not doing it to their own communities,” she said. “They're only robbing from the communities that they claim to be representing.”

“We somehow have got to figure out a way to voice our concerns and our anger and frustration in a more instructive way instead of destructive,” Postuchow said, “Because honestly the messages get lost in the noise, and the message is so important. And now instead of listening to the message, all you see is destruction,” she said. “It's destruction just to destroy something.”