MADISON — Joe Perkins considers himself lucky.
The owner of Tutto Pasta and members of his staff slept at the State Street restaurant during the worst of Madison’s riots. They didn’t get much sleep. They boarded up everything in advance of the looters that swept through portions of downtown like an angry tornado.
“Anyone who wasn’t boarded up got absolutely demolished,” Perkins told Empower Wisconsin.
That fact was clear to anyone walking around State Street and the Capitol Square Thursday —a downtown of wrecked storefronts standing like monuments to peace protests turned very violent. The protests nationwide, of course, are supposed to be about the horrifying death of George Floyd, the middle-aged black man fatally restrained by a Minneapolis police officer who is now facing homicide charges. What has occurred in cities nationwide is a seething salad of grief, rage, racism, rioting anarchy, battery, destruction and murder — all while politicians pander for votes.
Meanwhile, Perkins’ business neighbor, the Triangle Market, remained crushed and closed Thursday. The convenience store co-owner Ashim Malla told Empower Wisconsin it would be days, if not weeks, before he and his wife will be able to re-open. He couldn’t talk Thursday. He was cleaning up before going to a second job.
Malla sounded as emotionally spent Thursday as he did Monday when he talked to Channel 3000.
“It’s all our hard work, all hours we put in just to make some money, do something here,” he said. “And right in front of our eyes they were like threatening us and smiling and saying there was nothing we could do.”
As minority business owners in a diverse retail neighborhood, Malla and his wife and business partner Suzy Karki told the TV station they understand the frustration many of the protesters feel, but they don’t get the destruction
“What? What for?” Malla said. “You know, they are hurting the same people like them. And they’re not making any point out of it if they’re going to hurt people like us too.”
Perkins, who documented the destruction, said the looters tried to set the Triangle Market on fire at least three times.
Empower Wisconsin spoke to several State Street business owners. Many did not want to talk about the riots. Some feared reprisals for speaking out — not just from the criminal mobs that looted their stores, but from city government officials who have expressed more solidarity with the rioters than with the shop owners who experienced the brunt of their rage.
“We just feel like we didn’t see the support,” said one store owner. “We feel like we’re being ignored.”
Some State Street retailers have been extremely forgiving, given what they’ve gone through.
Landon Meske, general manager of Knuckleheads, a tobacco, vape and smoking accessories store nestled “high above” State Street, said looters did an estimated $100,000 in damage to the shop. He said about half the glass cases in the store were broken and 75 percent of the glass water pipes were taken or smashed.
“It was very hard for myself and staff to come out that day. This is a safe place for a lot of us,” Meske said.
Still, Knuckleheads is “with the movement.”
“If breaking windows and causing this much damage is the way to do it, so be it,” Meske said. “Knuckleheads’ stance is, we want all this to be worth it.”
But is all this destruction, all this violence going to deliver peace and justice?
The owners of the Triangle Market have a hard time seeing how as they clean up the pieces of all the’ve worked for.
Many State Street business owners were barely hanging on through the Evers administration’s lockdowns and the subsequent slow reopening plan of Madison leaders.
Perkins said the lockdown was “just brutal,” with sales at his restaurant at 10 percent of what they were before the stay-at-home orders. And now it seems the rioters and looters are trying to finish off the dying businesses.
“People aren’t going down to State Street,” he said. “It’s a disaster down here now.”