CHICAGO — After Friday's one-day strike, thousands of Chicago teachers and their supporters packed the Thompson Center for a rally, and to hear the union's leader speak.
Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis addressed the fired-up crowd, and gave a shout- out to the police officers who spent the day alongside them (albeit for work in most cases).
"Cops are not our enemies," Lewis told the crowd. "If they let us, we will make them more helpful. Our kids are not criminals."
But Lewis' friendly tone toward police was quickly overshadowed by the next speaker. Page May, of the Assata's Daughters activist group, got on stage and said: "F-- the police, f-- CPD, and f-- anybody who roll with them."
The comments upset many in the crowd — and online.
A Mount Greenwood Elementary School principal took to Facebook after receiving angry letters about the speech. She pointed angry parents to Lewis and union Vice President Jesse Sharkey.
"I have been made aware of comments that were stated during a rally about the CPD," Principal Catherine Mary Reidy said. "I was not only angered by them but disheartened that a statement that was made about our police department was stated at such a venue. The comment that was made does NOT reflect the teachers and staff that work at Mt. Greenwood school."
Second City Cop, a police blog, erupted with angry comments after a video of May's speech was posted. Some on Twitter called for May's firing and asked the teachers union to disavow the comments. Most recently, the Fraternal Order of Police— which recently gave the officer who killed McDonald and faces murder charges a job— has asked Lewis to condemn the comments, according to the Sun-Times.
May, however, doesn't work for Chicago Public Schools. The 27-year-old teaches at Village Leadership Academy, a private school in the South Loop.
And she was well aware that her speech at the rally didn't go over well with everyone. She said she's received death threats and racist hate mail from "more than 1,000 white people," according to her Twitter account.
"I said it because people need to stop thinking [policing in general] is a system that can be reformed," May told DNAinfo. "We've had police for hundreds of years and they've never kept black people safe. It's time to admit policing is a failed institution and move on."
May's group has been calling for the abolition of the police department publicly for months. She's been on the front line of protests following the release of the Laquan McDonald video in November, and was part of a group that addressed the United Nations Committee Against Torture charging the Chicago Police Department with genocide.
May said she has relatives who are police officers, but that doesn't change her belief that policing in general is racist and that cops should stay out of schools.
"The CTU keeps acting like they are on our side, but then Karen Lewis refuses to say cops need to get out of schools," May said. "I went [to the rally] knowing I would say exactly what I said, especially after seeing the ways labor has been so slow to support the [Black Lives Matter] movement and asks the cops to come to rallies and events. Until they come out explicitly opposed to cops in schools, I don't think we are fighting on the same side."
The teachers union, though, took part in an anti-police brutality on Magnificent Mile rally the day after Thanksgiving in the wake of the Laquan video release, publicly urging its members to be a part of the protests.
The Sun-Times reported that Lewis thought her speech would be the last one of the day, so hadn't expected May to create such a firestorm. On Twitter Tuesday, Lewis made sure her critics knew May was not a teachers union member, and that she didn't endorse her comments:
Did you read this? What did I say? Police are NOT our enemies. https://t.co/vV8L5eLizY— Karen Lewis (@KarenLewisCTU) April 5, 2016
Part of the reason some were confused about May's speech is that the rally itself was not only for the teachers union. Dozens of groups signed on to join the one-day strike.
Black Lives Matter activists called for closing the state's juvenile jails at the Illinois Youth Center on the Near West Side, fast food workers rallied for a higher minimum wage in front of a North Park McDonald's, and Hispanic groups led dual marches from Pilsen and Little Village to Cook County Jail, the latter symbolizing the perceived "school-to-prison pipeline" in communities of color.
Still, the teachers union has been silent on the issue aside from Lewis' tweets. Union officials did not return multiple calls for comment.
As for May, the threats and hate she's been getting online will not discourage her:
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