SOUTH LOOP — The owner of Warehouse Liquors was attacked and his store robbed during recent looting — but one woman helped save him and his business, standing guard and keeping people at bay for hours.
Now, Gene Charness, the store owner, is trying to reunite with Ceondra Porter, the woman who stood outside Warehouse Liquors and tried to keep him safe. Charness and his wife, Leslee, want to thank Porter.
On May 30, Porter, 22, of Avondale, was Downtown to join a large protest over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
At the same time, Charness, 62, got a call from his alarm company and went to his store, 634 S. Wabash Ave. He saw multiple people looting the store.
That night saw widespread looting and vandalism in the Downtown area. Officials have said people used the protests for Floyd as cover to steal and damage local businesses.
Security video from Warehouse Liquors shows a large group of people breaking the store’s doors to get inside and then carrying out bottles and boxes. The video shows shelves pulled down with debris everywhere.
Charness got to the store and tried to get the people looting it to leave. Someone threw a bottle at Charness’ back and another person knocked him down and stole more items from the store’s shelves.
Charness got the people out, though, and then held up a security gate to try to keep them away — until someone attacked him with a fire extinguisher.
Charness had called his son, Frank, to tell him about the break-in. Frank Charness rushed over to help his father — but his call with his dad went dead just as the people looting the store attacked Charness with the fire extinguisher.
Frank Charness got to the store and found his father alive but worse for wear. He had been assaulted, hit in his head and threatened by people looting.
“Some guy comes up to the front door and tells me he’s gonna kill me,” Gene Charness said.
Porter, a protester, had seen Frank Charness running frantically to the store and followed him to see if he was OK.
Something about his running frightened Porter and made her think something has gone very wrong. She wanted to help, she said.
An exhausted Gene Charness tried to shoo away Porter. But after an hour, Porter returned to check up on Frank Charness, who looked exhausted.
“I’m not here to attack you. I’m not here to break into your store,” Porter said she told Frank and Gene Charness. “What I will do is stand in front of this store and guard this store while you take a break.”
A weary Frank Charness sat with Porter outside of the store for awhile. She eventually told him to go back into Warehouse Liquors as the groups of people outside of the store were getting agitated.
Porter thought she could calm them down on her own. She told the people looting Warehouse Liquors was a Black-owned store, thinking that would prevent further damage.
“I just know I’m trying to protect these people and this store. I don’t know why,” Porter said. “But it was something that told me to go back and do that.”
As Porter guarded the store, a group of young men started harassing her and threatening her, saying, “Don’t make me beat your ass like I beat that man in the store,” she said. Some said the owners of the store were racist and told Porter she should step aside to let them in. She refused.
A different group of men also approached, telling Porter, “Sis, if you need any protection, let me know,” she said. But she ignored their offers — and later saw them shooting nearby.
“Don’t kill anybody on my behalf thinking that you’re doing it for me,” Porter said she thought.
Through it all, Porter refused Gene Charness’ offer to bring her water or let her rest.
Though Warehouse Liquors had been damaged and Gene Charness attacked before Porter’s arrival, she kept her guard from midnight onwards.
“She stayed that way for about two hours guarding the door. She wouldn’t come in, she wouldn’t take a bottle of water,” Gene Charness said.
After a while things settled down and Porter left.
Gene Charness might have never known who she was if not for an instagram post by his wife, Leslee Charness.
“I just wanted to reach out. I was just hoping that, you know, I could get in touch with her … thank her in person. And I hope to still do that,” Leslee Charness said.
As luck would have it, Porter saw the post through a friend and commented on it. Gene and Leslee’s niece has been in touch with Porter and they hope to reunite in person.
But Porter dismissed her actions.
“I’m no guardian angel,” Porter said. “I just helped out a neighbor.”
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