Yesterday it came to my attention that Central Camera, the iconic camera store in Chicago, was looted and burned to the ground on May 30th during protests. This makes me terribly sad.

Just hours before I heard the news, I had myself been at a Black Lives Matter protest here in Montana.

I spent most of the afternoon and evening yesterday thinking about the state of our world. This morning I shared a number of photos I took yesterday at the protest (including the one above) and tried to express in each my support for ending endemic racist injustice and curbing the militarization of police. I have always, and will always support people’s right to non-violent protest regardless of whether I support the cause they champion. I do not approve of mob violence in any form, and I do not consider looting and pillaging to be valid forms of protest.

Protest is constructive, looting is destructive. They are in no way the same thing, even if they stem from the same well of anger and frustration.

I know there are many people who see only the anger, and not the intent. There are many who see the looters and protesters as one, and who dismiss the validity of the protests accordingly. I urge people not to do this. Try to understand the differences and separate the protesters from the destructive hordes.

As a photographer, I work tirelessly to tell stories, and I spend a great deal of time thinking about which stories are worthy of my attention. Anger and frustration are very difficult to embrace as a storyteller. To express these powerful feelings, we often have to present people in moments of hardship, of emotional, physical, and often intellectual distress. It is possible but very rare that opportunities to show people at their best emerge from a riot, and while I don’t have a photo of Don Flesch, owner of Central Camera to share, I am writing this because I think his story is vital. Don is regarded by many as a kind-hearted, thoughtful man. He is the present owner of the 121-year-old Chicago camera store which has been a keystone for photographers around the world. Even as his business burned the other night in Chicago’s South Loop, Don expressed his support for the protesters and the change they were demanding. There is no better example of making the critical distinction between protesting and looting.

Central Camera has been supporting photographers for 121 years as a small, family-owned business, and its destruction pains me. So I am writing this to ask that everyone who reads this consider that violence and destruction are unwieldy and tactless responses, and are incapable of being administered without harming the wrong people. Unlike the racial injustice against which we should all be fighting, which for four hundred years has been targetted and precise, mob disorder is always nebulous and careless. It is incapable of addressing the injustice it responds to because it is too busy transferring injustice to others.

As Americans we hold our freedoms in the highest regard, and we believe it is those institutionalized freedoms that elevate us and make us great. But we are not truly free, and for many, race has been the single factor in determining whether they get to enjoy the promise of freedom. In the last few weeks, we have seen shameless and brazen expressions of authoritarianism from our President. But we’ve also seen inspired, non-violent, hopeful expressions from many good people. Some, like watching Don Flesch show his support for protesters while his business burned, should stand out. And we should all make an effort to listen.

Don Flesch has every intention to rebuild and re-open Central Camera, and he has set up a GoFundMe campaign to help. I hope you will join me in making a contribution and helping Central Camera once again serve the storytelling community. Storytellers benefit from these businesses, and we owe our support to them, as loyal patrons and as friends and allies in the unfolding and troubled story of our times.