Ferguson Media Darling Joshua Williams Sentenced to 8 Years For Arson

December 13th, 2015 11:24 PM

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Thursday that Joshua Williams "was sentenced ... to eight years in prison for starting a fire at a QuikTrip in Berkeley (a St. Louis suburb) after an officer-involved shooting there." The Dispatch apparently didn't think it important to tell readers that the crime spree which occurred after that shooting took place despite the fact that the suspect had pulled a gun on that officer.

I noted in a NewsBusters post a year ago that Williams' arrest on charges of "1st degree arson, 2nd degree burglary and misdemeanor theft," and his confession "to setting fires at the store in a videotaped interview" constituted a major establishment press embarrassment. You see, until then, outfits like the New York Times, MSNBC and others had, in the words of Ryan Lovelace at National Review, "depicted him as a hero of the summer protests" in Ferguson, Missouri.

The Post-Dispatch devoted one paragraph to Williams' former celebrity status:

Williams was often seen at Ferguson protests last year. In October, 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. He confronted St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson during a Ferguson Commission meeting last year. He was also arrested at least twice during Ferguson-related protests for unlawful assembly and refusal to disperse.

The Associated Press watered it down further in its related terse, five-paragraph national story, though to be fair its headline was strong:


One of the more visible protesters during last year's unrest in Ferguson has been sentenced to eight years in prison for starting a fire at a gas station during demonstrations after a fatal police shooting in nearby Berkeley.

... Williams was frequently quoted and photographed while protesting the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson.

National Review's Lovelace noted that Williams' notoriety took him to other places besides Ferguson, where he rubbed shoulders with several others in the "civil rights" grievance-mongering orbit (bolds are mine throughout the rest of this post):

Joshua Williams has been everywhere: protesting in Ferguson, Mo., Washington, D.C., and Cleveland, Ohio. Now, he is in St. Louis, where police have arrested him for arson. During the Ferguson protests, Williams perfected the skill of catching the attention of journalists and using them to elevate his claims of police brutality to national attention. Quoted or photographed in countless articles in publications including the New York Times and USA Today, Williams claims police in Ferguson, Mo., targeted him because he is black. The truth, caught on tape by National Review Online, is much different.

... Williams made his way to Washington, D.C., to join protests there, too. “The reason we came up here is because we are tired of being shot down in the streets like dogs,” Williams told thousands of people gathered in the city streets for Al Sharpton’s “Justice for All” march earlier this month. “Police have a thing called the trigger finger — they can’t control they trigger finger when they see a black person in the street.”

... NRO visited Ferguson in November and observed something different. On a cold fall night before the grand jury decided against indicting police officer Darren Wilson for killing Michael Brown, Williams stood across the street from the Ferguson Police Department. “Come on, I’m ready,” he shouted. “Your time starts now. You have five minutes to arrest me, or we’re going to bang it out in the streets.”

... MSNBC portrayed his arrival at the protests in Ferguson as if he were a reluctant leader who was involuntarily drafted to defy the police: “Like hundreds of other young people in Ferguson, many of whom have born [sic] the weight of a litany of alleged and frequent abuses residents say police have heaped upon the city’s black majority, Williams has found himself thrust into the heart of the city’s protests and civic action sparked by Brown’s death.”

The reality is more complicated. Williams appears to have told journalists and his fellow protestors conflicting stories about his past, and may in fact have been homeless and using those he met through the protests to survive.

As I noted a year ago, some journalists had a hard time letting go of their original takes on Williams. When he was arrested, the headline at the Post-Dispatch read: "Protester who advocates peace charged with setting fire at Berkeley QT."

The Riverfront Times, an alternative media outlet in St. Louis, reports that the perpetual "protest movement" is not pleased with the length of Williams' sentence:

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.

Other news reports indicate that the prosecution had requested a 15-year sentence.

The aforementioned AP report is the only news on Williams' sentencing seen at the New York Times web site. It appears not to have made the paper's print edition. (UPDATE, Jan. 5, 2016: A reader has informed me that the AP story is no longer available at the Times web site.)

MSNBC.com appears to have no coverage of Williams' sentencing. But its glowing September 12, 2014 portrayal is still there — with no updates relating to his arrest, pleas, or prison term.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.