A vocal and high-profile Ferguson protester has been arrested and charged with arson after setting a Berkeley shopping store on fire. St. Louis resident Joshua Williams, 19, was taken into police custody after multiple store surveillance videos captured him trying to set ablaze a pile of wood that was placed adjacent to a QuickTrip shop.

According to court documents, Williams has confessed as being the man in the video. Authorities say that Williams took part in the Berkeley protest following the shooting death of 18-year-old Antonio Martin by a police officer. He and several other protesters entered the QuickTrip store after rioters smashed the windows. He was later seen on video setting the shop on fire by spreading lighter fluid both inside and outside the store. He is currently being charged with first degree arson. He also snatched items from the store, so he will be charged with felony burglary as well.


News of Williams arrest came as a surprise and disappointment to many; a lot of protesters saw him as a model activist and poster child for a peaceful protester. He has a profile with MSNBC, which quotes him as saying:

“We 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 (police) can pull out their toys on us again. I learned that we have to stand up and that you can’t get nowhere with violence but you can always move people without it.”

Williams has led many rallies and sit-ins in the aftermath of the grand jury decision not to indict Darren Wilson for the shooting death of Michael Brown. Back in October, he was seen leading a demonstration and walking arm-in-arm with famous activist and lecturer Cornel West. The news of the Ferguson protester’s arrest and subsequent confession has stunned many of his fellow activists.

Many are also questioning Williams’ judgment and why he was involved in the Berkeley protest. Even many Ferguson protesters agree that the Antonio Martin shooting was justified especially since video footage was available and shows martin pulling what appears to be a gun at the police officer who responded with deadly force.

With a high-profile Ferguson protester’s arrest, it looks like activists will need to look for a new face to take up their cause. Clearly, Williams isn’t someone who practices what he preaches.

[photo credit: Paul George]