By Mark Guarino
Nearly 13 months ago, residents and business owners of Uptown stood on the street and watched a Kenosha neighborhood go up in flames. It was Aug. 24, 2020, and the fires that swept through the small business district compelled Rittenhouse, and dozens of other gun owners, to arrive the next day, determined that what happened in Uptown not happen a second night.
“Am I nervous? Hell yeah,” said the owner of Chasers Lounge, a bar that has stood in the neighborhood since 1933. The owner, who spoke on the condition his name not be used, said he invested his life savings into the bar, which he has owned for 20 years. Since the fires, he said he can’t hire bartenders “because they’re all scared to death” to work in the neighborhood.
Now, with Rittenhouse acquitted of all charges related to killing two men and injuring a third, Uptown is quiet, but the people who live here are wary of what might come next. There are still physical scars of what happened the night before Rittenhouse first came to town: The storefronts of the Good Taste Ice Cream Shoppe and Uptown Beauty are still rubble; a grassy lot represents the place where the two-story brick Danish Brotherhood Hall once stood, and more grass around the corner stretches over three lots.
Yet there are signs that things have returned to normal. A child’s birthday party is underway at a party center, young men browse cartoon figures at a new collectibles store, and at, at the corner laundromat, James Lundberg has the place to his own as he waits for his clothes to dry.
“If there’s unrest, there’s unrest — that’s life,” he said. Rittenhouse, Lundberg said, “didn’t break any laws according to the Constitution.” The 56-year old said prosecutors should have instead focused on charging the many people who looted and burned buildings in his neighborhood. “Why are they not on trial?” he asked. “It’s all backwards.”
Next door, that same resignation hung in the air inside Fade City, a barbershop where Mike Johnson, 40, was cutting hair. He said he is convinced Kenosha — and Uptown — will remain peaceful because “we knew the answer already” that Rittenhouse would not be found guilty.
“Everyone in this town did,” he said as he trimmed the beard of a customer. “We knew the verdict a year ago.”
His is one of a few businesses that was open late in the day; many had closed their doors earlier than usual to avoid any potential problems after the verdict was announced.
Standing in front of his financial services business, Joseph Braggs, 44, had considered boarding up his windows but decided it probably wasn’t necessary. Uptown will be safe, he said, but Black people necessarily won’t, he said. “White tears are all you need” to be found guilty, he said of Rittenhouse, who gained attention when he cried as he testified last week. “That’s America.”