Peaceful Ferguson Protester Charged With Arson

One of Ferguson’s highest profile protesters, Joshua Williams, who claimed to advocate for peace, was charged with arson Saturday for setting fire to a Berkeley convenience store.

St. Louis County police arrested Joshua Williams, 19, of St. Louis, on Friday after several local media outlets and store surveillance captured images of him trying to set a pile of wood on fire outside the QuikTrip on North Hanley Road early Wednesday.

Williams confessed to setting fires at the store in a videotaped interview, according to court documents.

Police say Williams entered the QuikTrip shortly after looters shattered its glass doors during protests of the death of Antonio Martin, 18, who a police officer had shot earlier at the Mobil station across the street. Surveillance footage from the Mobil store shows Martin point what police say is a gun at a Berkeley officer before the officer fatally shoots him.

Williams can be seen in videos both inside and outside the looted QuikTrip, authorities said.

Ironically, perhaps, some protested his arrest claiming video of the events was unclear, even though Williams had confessed.

“Josh is one of the young activists, and all of us have taken close to him. We got to know his heart, and he got to know ours,” said Bishop Derrick Robinson, of Kingdom Destiny Fellowship International. “He’s a great kid, an educated kid, a child who knows what he wants and is very active in the community.”

The Post-Dispatch, Bloomberg, USA Today and the Associated Press have quoted and photographed Williams. On Oct. 13, he was photographed walking arm-in-arm with author and activist Cornel West toward the St. Louis University campus where protesters staged a sit-in.

Peace just doesn’t seem to mean what it once did, perhaps.

Williams’ most recent confrontation of St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson during a Ferguson Commission meeting landed him in the pages of this newspaper.

Williams came within feet of Dotson and shouted at him as he tried to answer questions from the panel. “Can someone please get this lying (expletive) ho off the mic!” Williams yelled.

Williams has been arrested at least twice during Ferguson-related protests for unlawful assembly as well as refusal to disperse.

Police say Williams used lighter fluid to set fires inside and outside the QuikTrip early Wednesday. He was charged with arson in the first degree, a felony. He is also charged with felony burglary and misdemeanor stealing for allegedly taking a lighter, gum and money from the store.

Williams has been quoted as an advocate for peaceful protests.


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