Protesters crash mayor’s private MLK party

rahm protest
"Rahm’s gotta go!" shouted activist Carolyn Ruff outside of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s privately held interfaith breakfast commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the Hyatt Regency at McCormick Place. (Hannah Gebresilassie/MEDILL)

Text by Hannah Gebresilassie
Video by Kat Lonsdorf

Chicago activists interrupted Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s privately held interfaith breakfast Friday commemorating the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., to protest the mayor’s handling of fatal shootings of unarmed black teenagers by Chicago police.

As promised, more than 30 protesters gathered at the main entrance of the Hyatt Regency at McCormick Place, locking arms, trying to keep guests from going in.

“Enough is enough,” said Carolyn Ruff, one of the first protesters to arrive on the scene around 7 a.m. following another protest at the Board of Trade that morning. “This city is corrupted and we’re here to get rid of Mayor Rahm Emanuel.”

Nearly a dozen protesters went as far to push through security, taking the escalator to the second floor lobby, getting within about 10 yards of the main door to the breakfast. On different occasions, two intruders made their way into the breakfast interrupting the program. One woman carried a sign while chanting “16 shots and a cover-up” before getting escorted out.

Protesters upset with Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s handling of police brutality incidents in Chicago stormed the mayor’s annual interfaith prayer breakfast commemorating the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. on Friday. (Kat Lonsdorf/MEDILL)

The group was led by the Coalition for a New Chicago, a non-partisan organization partially responsible for disrupting traffic on Black Friday and Christmas Day.

“We feel that Mayor Emanuel only caters to the elite class,” said the Rev. Gregory Livingston, coalition founder, who was not invited to the event. “He will only invite people who support what he does which is closing 54 schools, police misconduct, suppressing evidence and covering up murders.”

The Emanuel administration continues to draw criticism as part of the fallout from the shooting deaths of Laquan McDonald, 17, and most recently Cedrick Chatman, also 17.

While protesters tried to keep guests from entering the breakfast, attendees inside agreed the purpose of the breakfast was not about Emanuel and his so-called failed leadership.

“This is to celebrate Dr. King, and I don’t want to take the distraction away from that and that’s why I came,” said attendee Priscilla Lukerson, adding someone she knew personally tried to prevent her from going in.

Emanuel, who took office in 2011, inherited the annual interfaith breakfast started by Mayor Harold Washington in 1985.

“Celebrating Dr. King reminds us that great men and women through their words and deeds can command our collective conscience and train our intention on injustices that require urgent action,” Emanuel said.

Civic leaders reflected on the similarities between the 1960s and present-day Chicago.

“During this time, it’s really important that we remember his fight for social justice and against racism and inequality and recommit ourselves to those values,” said Ald. William Burns (4th).

Several ministers held true to their word and boycotted the 29th Annual Interfaith Breakfast. More than 70 pastors who usually attend the event were absent, according to NBC Chicago.

“I didn’t go into the breakfast because I identified with the masses and the people who are rejected,” said Bishop Edgar Jackson. “We hope to accomplish that the mayor will eventually be removed from his post.”

Photo at top: “Rahm’s gotta go!” activists shout outside Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s privately held interfaith breakfast commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the Hyatt Regency at McCormick Place. (Hannah Gebresilassie/MEDILL)