Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Wednesday he will forge ahead with the annual Martin Luther King breakfast on Friday, even though there could be a ton of empty tables.
Accusing Emanuel of participating in the very code of silence he has condemned, religious leaders plan to boycott and picket the event and urge black elected officials to join them.
“The Martin Luther King mayoral breakfast is not about me. It’s about Dr. King and his life that he led and his life’s work. And we have a lot of work ahead of us — not only as a city, a state and a country — being consistent with his life’s work of economic and social justice,” the mayor told reporters after a City Council meeting.
“It started under Mayor Harold Washington. Every mayor has held it. And I’m going to continue to hold it as I have in the past and in the years ahead in this term. It is a time in which the city, regardless of our differences, comes together to honor Dr. King, honor his life, honor the message of his life and use that to re-energize ourselves towards economic and social justice.”
The mayor added, “Obviously, certain people will take certain actions. I know what we, as a city, should do in using this moment in time and work very hard towards that effort. . . . I’m going to continue to stay determined, driven with the desire to get change, make the necessary decisions to push the city forward.”
Pastor Ira Acree said he has no interest in providing “political cover” for the mayor when he is firmly convinced that Emanuel “concealed” both the Laquan McDonald shooting video and the contract kickback scandal that culminated in the guilty plea by former Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett until after the mayoral runoff election April 7.
“CPD scandals continue to unfold every day, and our community is incredulous at the role the mayor of our city played,” Acree told a news conference before the City Council meeting Wednesday.
“I will not be attending Mayor Emanuel’s MLK breakfast because if Dr. King was alive, he would not be welcome, nor would he attend. Considering the conspiracy, considering the concealment of evidence, considering the cover-up and toxicity of the corruption of this mayor’s administration, it would be a shame for us as ministers to be there and provide for Mayor Emanuel the political cover that he would desire.”
Last month, Emanuel apologized for the “systematic breakdown” that culminated in the “totally avoidable” police shooting death of Laquan McDonald and acknowledged the “code of silence” in the Chicago Police Department he once tried to keep out of a court record.
The cathartic and emotional speech before a special City Council meeting did nothing to silence demands for Emanuel’s resignation.
The mayor has emphatically denied keeping the dashcam video of the McDonald shooting under wraps to get past the election.
But he has acknowledged that he “added to the suspicion and distrust” of everyday Chicagoans by blindly following and not questioning the city’s long-standing practice of withholding shooting videos to avoid compromising ongoing criminal investigations.
On Wednesday, Acree and Bishops James Dukes and Tavis Grant said they don’t buy the mayor’s claims.
Acree used the same words that Emanuel used on Dec. 1, the day he fired Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy after claiming for weeks that he had his only police superintendent’s back.
“Any other time, I would welcome the chance to be at the table with the mayor of a world-class city like Chicago. But it’s not the time. To use the mayor’s words [about McCarthy], he is a distraction. The mayor is a distraction. The manner in which he handled the Laquan McDonald case and the Darius Pinex case is not only unethical, it’s possibly even criminal.”
Acree urged religious leaders across the city — no matter their race or religion — to join the 50 or 60 participating black ministers in boycotting the breakfast at 8 a.m. Friday at the McCormick Hyatt Hotel.
And Acree urged black elected officials for whom the annual event is normally a command performance to join in the boycott as well.
That request may be a tall order even though black ministers and activists plan to picket the event and shame those going in.
Ald. Michelle Harris (8th), newly slated Democratic candidate for Circuit Court clerk, said she plans to attend.
“They’re saying we’re all part of the cover-up. Covering up what? What did we know that the general public didn’t have access to?” said Harris, the Rules Committee chairman who is one of Emanuel’s staunchest City Council supporters.
“The public is welcome to sit in on all of our meetings and City Council. What are we covering up? We’re getting the same information the public is getting at the same time when we sit in those settlement hearings and hear the information.”
Ald. Carrie Austin (34th), the powerful chairman of the City Council’s Budget Committee, is also planning to attend the mayor’s breakfast. Austin called the boycott “absolutely ridiculous.”
“It’s about Martin Luther King. But everybody wants to make everything about the mayor. No. This is not about him. He’s the sponsor,” Austin said.
“Y’all make all of the ruckus unnecessary,” she said of the media. “Because some of the ministers are boycotting it? Then you don’t stand behind Martin Luther King. It don’t have anything to do with Rahm Emanuel.”