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Emanuel’s MLK breakfast shut down by fair housing advocates

16 demonstrators block access to Mayor Emanuel’s opulent ‘Martin Luther King Day Breakfast’ at the Hilton this morning as 150 supporters march nearby, circling the entrances and parking lots to the Hotel while singing civil rights songs. The demonstrators have gathered in support of what they call the true continuation of the Chicago Freedom Movement Dr. King initiated 50 years ago.

After the Mayor’s annual King Day event was overrun last year with protests about racial inequity in his Administration’s policing practices, the Mayor quietly moved the annual breakfast from its customary and time-honored location at the McCormick Place Hyatt to the opulent Hilton Hotel at 720 S. Michigan Avenue. Continuing with his practice of “invitation only” access to the breakfast to the civic elite and to faith leaders cozy with the Mayor’s administration, Mayor Emanuel intended to create a stately— and protest free— breakfast amidst a racially charged atmosphere in which fundamental questions about the racial equity of Mayor Emanuel’s governance in Chicago are rising up from all corners, from policing to education, to the topic at hand—- equity in housing.

Now, this morning, just as the Mayor’s Administration reels from the Department of Justice’s release of its findings from its probe of the embattled Chicago Police, activists concerned with housing equity are joining their voices to the fray calling for racial justice reforms, while putting their bodies on the doors.

Carrying chains and door-blocking devices, a team of 16 individuals, including public and subsidized housing residents, homeless and formerly homeless individuals and their allies, have barricaded themselves inside the doors leading into the Hilton Hotel and its adjacent parking lots. They say they intend to block access to an Event they argue Mayor Emanuel uses cynically to exploit the name and image of Dr. Martin Luther King while retrenching the very status quo of inequality and disenfranchisement for black people and black communities in Chicago that Dr. King sought to transform through his life.

Referencing the Chicago Freedom Movement that Dr. King kicked off in January of 1966 to fight against de facto segregation in housing, the demonstrators are calling for Mayor Emanuel to drop his opposition to the “Keeping the Promise” Ordinance, which demonstrators argue will advance Dr. King’s vision for equity in housing access, quality, and choice for minority families in Chicago by:

· Tripling the amount of family public housing on Chicago’s north side, where the historic racism of Chicago’s City Council in the 1950-1970s prevented public housing from ever being built;

· Promoting significant capital reinvestment in low-income African American communities where CHA demolished public housing and has not rebuilt, leaving vacant lots, declining schools, and rising violence in its wake;

· Dedicating one million dollars annually to enforcing Chicago’s anti-discrimination laws, which are supposed to provide free and unfettered choice of neighborhood for section 8 voucher holders, but which the City fails to enforce or resource;

· Improving services to voucher-holders in their search for housing in a neighborhood of their choice;

· Increasing transparency and accountability around CHA’s performance and fiscal accountability by having the CHA appear regularly before the Chicago City Council’s Committee on Housing and Real Estate for hearings and public inquiry, as the City’s own Department of Housing has done since a successful campaign for improved transparency in 1994.

JL Gross, a resident of the Lathrop Homes, states, “50 years after Dr. King, you would think that the Mayor of Chicago would be willing to take a few baby steps to address housing segregation. But he won’t. Mayor Emanuel may be praising Dr. King today. But he dishonors Dr. King everyday with his failure to lead the city forward to a place where black and brown families have equal access to decent housing and decent neighborhoods as whites. The Mayor is the boss of the Chicago Housing Authority but he refuses to hold CHA accountable to its promises to replace public housing units, all while CHA is hoarding hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars in its reserves.”

Etta Davis, a long-time resident of the Dearborn Homes, and a housing organizer with the Lugenia Burns Hope Center says, “We won’t allow Mayor Emanuel to get away with talking Dr. King’s talk when he doesn’t walk Dr. King’s walk. For over two years, we have attempted to work with Mayor Emanuel on the Keeping the Promise Ordinance.” The demonstrators are demanding the Mayor offer a good-faith negotiation to reach consensus on this important piece of legislation to achieve racial justice and accountability at the CHA and in Chicago.

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