Well-known Ferguson activist charged with arson, burglary


St. Louis prosecutors on Saturday charged well-known Ferguson, Mo., activist Joshua Williams, 19, with setting fire to a convenience store during protests sparked by the police shooting of teenager earlier this week.

St. Louis County police said in a criminal complaint said that surveillance video and news footage show Williams starting multiple fires inside and outside the Quick Trip convenience store as it was being looted early Wednesday morning.

Williams has been widely quoted in the media as an advocate for peaceful protest since Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown, 18, on Aug. 9.


He was photographed walking arm-in-arm with noted public intellectual and activist Cornel West and was profiled by MSNBC, where he was quoted as saying that activists “have to come together as one and show them we can be peaceful, that we can do this. If not they’re going to just want us to act up so they can pull out their toys on us again.”

Williams confessed to the crimes in a videotaped interview and has been arrested, police said in the complaint. He was being held on a bond of $30,000.

The store is across the street from the gas station where a police officer shot and killed 18-year-old Antonio Martin in Berkeley on Tuesday night.

Police said Martin pulled a handgun on the officer, and Berkeley Mayor Theodore Hoskins has said the shooting appeared to have been justified. A 9-millimeter handgun was found at the scene and security footage released by the police shows Martin raising his gun hand at the officer.

Williams was charged with arson in the first degree and with second-degree burglary for entering the convenience store -- both are felonies. He was also charged with misdemeanor stealing for taking a lighter, gum and cash from the store.

Williams has been a mainstay among a generation of young activists, helping organize protests after the Brown shooting.


“I think it was amazing how people stood up and demonstrated our voices be heard,” Williams told the Los Angeles Times in October when younger protesters fought for inclusion at a rally. “All [older speakers] want us to do is listen to them speak. Well, now it’s our turn.”

Some activists gathered outside the St. Louis County Justice Center on Friday and Saturday to protest his arrest.

“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,” Bishop Derrick Robinson, of Kingdom Destiny Fellowship International told the St. Louis Post Dispatch. “He’s a great kid, an educated kid, a child who knows what he wants and is very active in the community.”

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