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Rahm Emanuel gets warm reception, few protests at MLK event

The protesters shouting on the outside had this much in common with many of the people eating breakfast on the inside: Each saw the other’s behavior at an event to celebrate Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday as a betrayal.

But for very different reasons.

Some two dozen or so pastor-led protesters linked arms to try to stop people entering the annual breakfast gathering at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place — saying, among other things, that the slain civil rights leader would have boycotted the event in light of recent events in the city.

Protesters outside of the City of Chicago annual Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast at the McCormick Hyatt, 2223 S King Dr. Friday, January 15, 2016. Brian Jackson/ for the Sun-Times

Inside, several speakers blasted the protesters for letting their anger at Mayor Rahm Emanuel — who spoke at the breakfast — overshadow King’s day.

“For us to conjure up any reason to boycott this breakfast is to betray the sacrifices of our ancestors and those who fought for our freedom,” said the Rev. B. Herbert Martin Sr., pastor of Progressive Community Church on the South Side.

“It is to betray them and their sacrifices. To boycott this breakfast is to trample on the graves on of our foremothers and our forefathers.”

Martin’s remarks drew loud applause from the 900 or so people at the gathering.

Several religious leaders, including Pastor Ira Acree, had boycotted the event, in protest of Emanuel’s handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting. In urging other leaders to join him, Acree had said he doesn’t want to provide “political cover” for the mayor who, he said, concealed the McDonald shooting video. The mayor has strongly denied keeping the dashcam video of the 2014 shooting under wraps to get past the election.

On Friday morning, after protesting outside the Hyatt, a handful of protesters made their way to the check-in area for the breakfast and loudly denounced Emanuel.

“I’m outraged!” shouted protester Ronald Mason. “This mayor is an outrage!”

“We cannot allow a tyrant to govern this city,” said Gregory Livingston, head of the Coalition for a New City.

The protesters, some yelling at TV cameramen for recording them, were eventually led away.

But later, several protesters made their way into the breakfast event, shouting “Sixteen shots and a cover-up!” — a reference to the 16 shots Chicago Police officer Jason Van Dyke is accused of firing into McDonald’s body.

The mayor used Friday’s event to emphasize his on-going efforts to restore trust in his under-fire police department and his administration. He talked about facing “hard truths.”

Stokley Davis and Mayor Rahm Emanuel at the City of Chicago annual Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast at the McCormick Hyatt, 2223 S King Dr. Friday, January 15, 2016. Brian Jackson/ for the Sun-Times

“We will not be the city we need to be and can be unless we restore trust between our police and our communities, and provide opportunities for all Chicagoans who see the future of Chicago and their future together,” Emanuel said. “To deal with the violence that claims lives on our streets — mostly the lives of young African-American men — we also have to root out the cancer of police abuse, because the quest for safe and secure neighborhoods and against violence demands trust between the community and the police. And when there is no trust, there is no safety.”

Police could not confirm Friday afternoon if there were any arrests tied to the demonstration.

Meanwhile across town, the Chicago Teachers Union was handing out awards to organizers of some of the year’s largest protests.

One major award went to the Rev. Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou, a pastor and leader of the mass protests against police violence in Ferguson, Mo., who used his keynote speech to call for Emanuel’s head.

“Mayor Emanuel, it’s time for you to step down,” Sekou said, as the crowd of teachers, supporters and CPS students cheered and jumped to their feet.

Sekou echoed the sentiments of a resolution passed last week by the CTU’s House of Delegates calling on Emanuel and Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez to step down in the wake of the McDonald shooting controversy.

“If you thought you were going to hear a passive voice, you should’ve gone to the other thing,” union president Karen Lewis said, getting in a dig at the mayor’s event.

But asked afterwards if she agreed that Emanuel should go, Lewis replied, “I don’t care. I don’t care what he does…That was something that came from the membership and we respect our democratic process. Personally, I don’t care.”

Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, listens as Rev. Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou speaks during the union’s Martin Luther King Education Justice Breakfast at the IUOE Local 399 Hall, Friday, Jan. 15, 2016. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

She also said the union didn’t know about Emanuel’s event when planning theirs which is always held on King’s actual birthday rather than the holiday, so “it wasn’t as if we came up with something to compete with his.

“Ours has always been a little more radical, a little more honest and a little bit, again, not a sanitized version of Martin Luther King, not just the ‘I have a dream’ piece but people have to remember what he was doing when he was assassinated,” she continued. “He was standing with workers for a fair contract.”