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