By Vittoria Woodill

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — In this time, people across the country are having conversations about the meaning of protest and riots. Eyewitness News spoke with some small business owners and an essayist grappling with that very topic as it hits close to home.

Sleepless nights of looting in our city have not only caused pain for Philadelphians but all those who support peaceful protests — including those who support peaceful protests behind the businesses they’ve been forced to board up, like the Geisha House Boutique and Tuna Bar in Old City.

“It was horrific what happened and I totally disagree with what happened down there and I’m all for a peaceful protest. However, the looting and rioting, it’s scary,” Tuna Bar owner Kenneth Sze said.

“We don’t have a lot of money to fix something if something was truly broken during any riots,” Geisha House Boutique owner Cortney Sze said.

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Which has led to the question that has flooded social media, can we be angry with looters and supportive of rioters?

“Our tendency in this society is to require people to pick the side,” Sandy Smith said.

An essay written by Smith, a Harvard graduate and the Home and Real Estate editor for Philadelphia Magazine, says you can be both. His written words talk about how difficult it is to “holding two seemingly contradictory thoughts at the same time.”

“On 52nd Street, there was a wave of looting over the weekend and most of the businesses affected were small, independently owned, black-owned businesses, the very ones we want to encourage. That’s not sticking to the system, that’s sticking it to ourselves and we need to stop that and I think most African Americans tend to agree with me,” Smith said. “It doesn’t mean that there wasn’t a message being communicated. That is the very point of the Martin Luther King quote that’s been unearthed and has been dusted now. ‘A riot is the voice of the unheard.’

“I hope that anybody who reads this essay at least tries to seek out somebody whose viewpoints are different than their own and engaged them in a serious conversation about what they think, why they think that way.”

Sometimes the hardest things to talk about are exactly the things we need to talk about.

Vittoria Woodill