Josh Williams, the Jailed Ferguson Protester, Wants to Be Out There With Everyone

Culture

I’ve been catching up with it. Right now I know that all the officers in the George Floyd case got charged with their crimes, which I think is pretty fair for now. And once again it shows the bravery of our people that stand up together.

Have you been able to follow the other cases folks are protesting, including those of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery?

I have. When I watch all those, I think they’re trying to overpower us. Because it’s just happening too much. When I saw the Breonna Taylor case, that’s [the same thing that] caused me to be out there, and it caused everyone else to be out there. Because their lives matter, too. And I think the officer got off on that one. If it was someone else, then we would’ve got charged immediately. That’s why everybody is in the streets, because they’re angry. People call them thugs and criminals but they’re not. It’s an expression of anger and emotion.

The president himself called protestors “violent thugs.”

I actually wrote to Trump through an email I sent through somebody else. I told him, I said, “They’re not thugs. You keep on calling them thugs and criminals. Why don’t you come down here and say that to me? Because they’re not thugs at all. They’re just humans expressing their feelings.” I said, “If anybody’s a thug, you are a thug. Because you shouldn’t tear gas just to take a photo op on the street.”

Do the protests now feel motivated by the same injustices and abuses you were protesting in 2014?

I can see a similarity of Ferguson and this. But it’s more chaotic now. It’s a lot more looters out there. And then it’s nationwide, in every country. I think more people caught on this time. Michael Brown’s protest was like a scab that got pulled over America. And George Floyd’s death was like them ripping it off again. People are getting tired of it, more and more. And the more people notice—you got social media out there now, so everybody knows it now.

Is it at all exhausting seeing people in the streets protesting the same thing you were protesting in Ferguson, six years later?

I feel good about it, because I can see they still got the fight in them. They’re still fighting for what I fought for. They didn’t give up. But I want to be there with them too, though. So it’s bittersweet.

I don’t know how much this part of it has reached you, but the police have been responding incredibly violently to some of the protests. What do you make of those tactics?

I feel like if they have to do that, then they don’t need to be on the force at all. Because you get trained to de-escalate situations like that. And now you’re abusing your power out there because you’re aggravated or you’re angry and you take it out on innocent people. I really don’t like that part at all.

Do you have any advice for the people out there protesting now?

I’d just say: Keep safe. Keep standing your ground.

You’ve had a lot of time to think about the Ferguson protests. What is the lesson you took away from your time there?

I was out there for other people. Nor for fame or the glorification of it. Because this is a real war that we’re facing, so you got to be serious when you fight. You got to have your mind made up about what you’re finna do out there. Because if you don’t, that’s when you probably get hurt. And if you’re not sure about your fight, then you’re not sure you’re going to win either. So I had my mind made up. And I did what I did. I’m proud that we got a little bit of positivity from it. We got Urban League down there now and new businesses that’s going up in the community, so I feel pretty good about it. We elected a black woman mayor this week. I can see change down there. And I can see the bravery of the people still.

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