News - Joliet and Will County

Joliet mayor defends actions, will not consider resigning

Mayor Bob O'Dekirk speaks to members of the press Tuesday, June 9, 2020, while addressing his use of force against 23-year-old Victor Williams and 28-year-old Jamal Smith on Monday, June 1, after a mob began assaulting police near the intersection of Jefferson Street and Larkin Avenue in Joliet, Ill.

Mayor Bob O’Dekirk on Tuesday again defended his actions in a scuffle at a Black Lives Matter rally and said he has not considered resigning, which a number of people have called on him to do.

“The idea of resigning never crossed my mind,” O’Dekirk said during a press conference he held inside City Hall, where he was joined by three black leaders who supported the mayor and commended his efforts to diversify the Joliet Police Department.

"I was reelected a year ago," O'Dekirk said. "It's a four-year-term. I will finish my term."

Meanwhile, outside City Hall, about two dozen people gathered, holding signs calling O'Dekirk's resignation, some showing a photo of him as a young police officer with blood on his face and uniform.

O'Dekirk at the press conference acknowledged "there can be room for discussion" as to whether he as mayor should have been at the May 31 protest that turned violent as police ended it.

"But," he added, "considering what transpired that evening, I can only imagine what those discussions would be like if I had not been there."

O'Dekirk said he went to the protest at Jefferson Street and Larkin Avenue to try to keep the peace. He pointed out that he had met with protesters earlier in the day.

Looting and vandalism followed the protest. A small grocery on West Jefferson Street was set on fire. Ten stores were looted in various areas, including the shopping district around the Louis Joliet Mall.

When the protest turned violent, O'Dekirk said, police on the scene were "under repeated physical attack from the mob."

Four people spoke in support of the mayor at the press conference: Rev. Lonnie Posley, pastor of New Canaan Land Christian Church in Joliet; Cornel Darden Jr., president and CEO of the South Suburban Black Chamber of Commerce; Brad Price, a retired Joliet police officer representing the Black Police Officers Association; and Mady Perez, a Joliet resident who said she saw the mayor pushed before the scuffle with two black protesters.

Price said O'Dekirk as mayor has "dismantled the good old boy network and is creating city government that reflects the diverse complexion of this city."

He said the city has hired its first black female officer in 25 years under O'Dekirk and Joliet's first female firefighter.

Posley said O'Dekirk has joined him in and other leaders trying to deal with violence and other issues in the city.

"Everywhere we went to address the issues of Joliet, Mayor Bob O'Dekirk was there," Posley said.

Darden called O'Dekirk "a good mayor" and said, "we would not want to see him persecuted for something he did not do."

Those calling for O'Dekirk's resignation say video from the scene shows he initiated contact with Victor Williams in the scuffle that led to Williams and his brother, Jamal Smith, being arrested. Lawyers for the two men say neither knew who O'Dekirk was and that Smith came to William's defense when a man unknown to him grabbed his brother and pulled him forcefully away.

Perez said what she saw was protesters "assaulting police officers of Joliet. I also saw the mayor assaulted."

She described the scene as "horrific."

O'Dekirk said it is "difficult for anyone to define my personal intent on what happened that night for me, but me. I only acted to defend myself because I felt my personhood was threatened."

Protesters outside city hall were angry that they were not allowed to join the press conference which at one time was to take place outside. O'Dekirk said it was moved inside because of pending bad weather.

"They wouldn't let me in," said activist Loretta Hobbs. "They wouldn't even let me in the door, the ladies sitting there taking your temperature."

Visitors had to have their temperatures checked before entering City Hall.

Hobbs and Suzanna Ibarra, head of Will County Progressives and unsuccessful candidate for city council, both accused O'Dekirk of moving the event indoors to dodge protesters.

“To avoid us, to avoid all of us,” Ibarra said.

Bob Okon

Bob Okon

Bob Okon covers local government for The Herald-News