News - Joliet and Will County

Joliet mayor says he defended himself, sister says he attacked her brother

Peaceful protestors speak with Mayor Bob O'Dekirk and members of the city council Tuesday, June 2, 2020 about O'Dekirk's use of force against a protestor who he claimed used force against him.

The sister of two men arrested after a scuffle with Mayor Bob O’Dekirk was among several who challenged his version of what happened when the mayor came to a Black Lives Matter protest Tuesday.

O’Dekirk repeatedly said he had defended himself and had done nothing wrong when he grabbed a man at a protest on Sunday as police were breaking it up.

“You don’t feel you were doing anything wrong?” Jasmine Godfrey of Joliet said to O’Dekirk. “He’s in the hospital right now. ... I think for you to say you didn’t do anything wrong shows how you think.”

When Godfrey called on the mayor to resign, he answered, “I’m not going to resign.”

O’Dekirk talked with protesters and took questions for two hours, getting credit from some for his appearance at the protest in its third day on the corner of Jefferson Street and Larkin Drive.

“The person that I grabbed pushed me,” O’Dekirk when questioned about the incident captured on video. “I think I have the right to defend myself.”

Later describing what happened to another man challenging the mayor’s account, O’Dekirk said, “He went to push me. I knocked his hands away. I grabbed him.”

O’Dekirk said that while he was on the ground with the man he grabbed, someone from behind came and began punching him in the head.

That other man was Godfrey’s brother, Jamal Smith. The man O’Dekirk grabbed was her “baby brother,” Victor Williams, Godfrey said.

Neither of them knew who had just grabbed Williams and was pushing him toward police when both went to the ground, she said.

“Jamal was just trying to lay him (O’Dekirk) off of him,” Godfrey said. “Who is that attacking my brother? Oh, it’s the mayor.”

Godfrey said she learned that the man involved in the scuffle was the mayor of Joliet when she saw an article about the video in The Herald-News on Tuesday.

On Monday, interviewed at random at the Black Lives Matter rally that has continued for three days, Godfrey told of her brother being “jumped on” by what she thought was a police officer while trying to leave the rally.

On Sunday, she said, her brothers did not know who it was that grabbed Williams as they tried to leave the event.

“At a peaceful protest a white man comes and grabs my brother, and what are we supposed to think?” she said.

Now, she said, they both face criminal charges “because the mayor attacked my baby brother, and he didn’t know who he was.”

Others questioned why the mayor got involved in breaking up the rally.

“As the mayor, you shouldn’t have been in that position at all,” Erik Wiley of Joliet said to O’Dekirk.

The mayor defended his involvement at the protest Sunday, which went peacefully for most of the day, but was followed by rioting and looting, including the burning of a neighborhood grocery and break-ins at 10 stores. Thirty people were arrested.

“The reason I was out here Sunday was to stop things from escalating. That’s why I’m here today,” O’Dekirk told the protesters. “I was trying to stop the violence.”

O’Dekirk also talked with the protesters about police training, how discipline is handled and other policy matters.

He said that he has increased minority involvement in the police and fire departments by appointing minorities to the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners, which makes decisions on hiring and discipline.

While O’Dekirk repeatedly refused to apologize for his involvement in the Sunday incident, he said it does make his job harder.

“I think my job as mayor is to bring the community together,” he said. “That didn’t help do that. I’m not going to apologize for defending myself.”

Bob Okon

Bob Okon

Bob Okon covers local government for The Herald-News