Ferguson Protesters Express Shock at Eight-Year Sentence for Joshua Williams


Josh Williams' mugshot.
  • Josh Williams' mugshot.
Activists and allies of the Ferguson protest movement were stunned Thursday when a St. Louis County Circuit Court judge sentenced Josh Williams to eight years in prison.

Last month, the nineteen-year-old Williams pleaded guilty to arson, burglary and stealing; the charges stemmed from a December 23, 2014 protest during which Williams was recorded entering a Berkeley QuikTrip (which had initially been broken into by looters) and lighting fires inside and outside the convenience store. 

Williams' supporters packed the courtroom in Clayton yesterday, and many took to Twitter to voice their anger at the prosecution's request for the judge to "make an example" of Williams.

Others noted that Williams' actions caused little actual damage and that a teenager would now be imprisoned for years while Darren Wilson, the ex-Ferguson officer whose shooting of Michael Brown sparked the protest movement last year, remains free. 

"Today my heart is broken for a young man who stood up for what he believes in and will spend more in prison than any of the killer cops," tweeted activist Kayla Reed, who was among those critical of the prosecution's tactics.

Brittany Packnett, a protester, teacher and member of the Ferguson Commission, echoed Reed's anguish. 

Others, including Twitter user Tchop_stl, compared Williams' harsh treatment with the five-year sentence given to a former president of the St. Louis Police Officers Association, who pleaded guilty to two felony counts of possession of child pornography.

Williams' attorney, Nick Zotos, tells Riverfront Times that he agrees with the protesters' takes on the verdict. He says the prosecution successfully tarred his client with responsibility for all the violence that occurred during the Ferguson protests. 

"I think Josh wound up paying a price for a lot of things going on in Ferguson that he was not responsible for. He is an available fall guy," says Zotos, adding. "He did attempt to light a fire, but his sentence is completely disproportionate to the conduct." 

Follow Danny Wicentowski on Twitter at @D_ Towski. E-mail the author at Danny.Wicentowski@RiverfrontTimes.com

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Riverfront Times Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Riverfront Times Club for as little as $5 a month.