By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — The scars of Kenosha are still present in the rubble of Uptown, the empty lots where family-owned businesses once proudly stood — until they were burned to the ground by hate-filled rioters.
The emotional scars also were evident in the testimony Tuesday of Kenosha riot survivors during an Assembly Judiciary Committee hearing on a riot penalty bill that proponents say is long overdue.
State Rep. John Spiros’ Assembly Bill 279 would do what current statute doesn’t: define the term “riot.” And it would make attending a riot a Class A misdemeanor, and knowingly participating in a riot that causes substantial damage or personal injury a Class I felony — punishable by up to 3 1/2 years in state prison.
Spiros, a Marshfield Republican, told the committee, amazingly, Wisconsin is one of only four states that doesn’t even define what a riot is in its statutes. Perhaps it’s not all that surprising in a state with a governor who can’t bring himself to call what happened in Kenosha on the week of Aug. 23, 2020 a riot.
It certainly wasn’t a “mostly peaceful protest,” as Gov. Tony Evers and the radical left have tried to characterize the events that transpired after the officer-involved shooting of a black man who repeatedly resisted arrest during a domestic incident.
Scores of businesses in Kenosha’s Uptown and Downtown districts were damaged, many looted and dozens set on fire.
Kimberly Warner, owner of two Kenosha businesses, reiterated what she has often said, that the riots could have been checked and the violence and damage limited had the governor acted swiftly in sending state resources to Kenosha. The record shows he did not.
“That first night, had law enforcement been able to arrest people under a felony charge other people would not have come to exacerbate what happened,” Warner said. She added that she heard on live-streaming video one member of the mob scream out, “Which way to the downtown? That’s where all the stores are.”
“I was the only female business owner to speak out against what was wrong” at the time, she told the committee. She choked back tears as she talked about the death threats she received, how she faced a a “Cancel Culture” campaign against her business, and “thousands of Facebook messages and hate sent to my home.”
“This is the human face of the riots,” Warner said.
“I’m sure the governor hates my guts right now, but I feel that is what happened,” the business owner said. She was referring to the fact that Evers’ high-priced campaign attorneys threatened Milwaukee TV stations to remove an ad in which Warner said Evers’ failure to act kept Kenosha under siege for three nightmarish days. The ad was produced by Empower Wisconsin. The TV stations did not remove the ads.
Scott Carpenter, who lost in the riot fires the family furniture store his parents started 42 years ago, also was featured in Empower Wisconsin’s ads marking the one-year anniversary of the riots.
A lawmaker asked him what he thought about assertions that the business owners had insurance so they’ll be all right. He finds the presumptuous assertion infuriating. Not every business is insured. Not every business is fully insured. Carpenter and his family lost lots of inventory in the riots, much of which was “underinsured.”
“Just because you’re insured does not give someone the right to take away what is yours,” he said, adding that somebody has to pay for the damage. That somebody is ultimately the businesses hit with higher premiums and the customers who will have to make up the difference in higher prices.
Democrats on the committee raised concerns that the language would be too broad.
“We understand there is a fundamental difference between a protest and a riot,” Spiros said.