ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
From crumbling infrastructure to community policing, many of the nation's toughest challenges confront the country's mayors. And many of them are in Washington at the U.S. Conference of Mayors. As they focused on public safety today, there was a surprise. Protesters called for one of them to resign. NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.
CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: Surrounded by her colleagues, Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, the head of the conference, said it was a moment for the mayors to call on the presidential candidates and Congress to invest and protect cities. To invest, she said, by helping to replace worn-out infrastructure.
STEPHANIE RAWLINGS-BLAKE: And protect means a federal partnership to support the mayors, our police chiefs and our police departments as we work together to have modern, humane community policing that will protect our people who live in our cities.
CORLEY: Call it a surreal moment. As Rawlings-Blake continued her remarks, a protestor stepped to the front of the podium, prominently holding a sign that said 16 shots and a cover-up and calling for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to resign.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Black lives matter.
CORLEY: There have been ongoing protests in Chicago over the fatal shooting of a black teenager, Laquan McDonald. He was shot 16 times by a white officer two years ago, and the protest continued here. It clearly rattled Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett who was next in line to speak.
MICK CORNETT: Do we need to stop the press conference until?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: No.
CORNETT: Ok, all right.
CORLEY: April Goggans with Black Lives Matter stood her ground and later said she's not fazed by changes including more body cameras for police officers or Tasers.
APRIL GOGGANS: I think that it would irresponsible for me not to show up here and say that this is some fantasy world that they live while the thousands and millions of people in their cities are experiencing something totally different.
CORLEY: At the conference, hundreds of mayors, though, gathered to hear Mayor Emanuel and others talk about policing issues in their cities and how to create safer neighborhoods. During his talk, Emanuel ignored the protest but focused, instead, on gun violence and ways to keep young people out of gangs.
RAHM EMANUEL: The biggest impact you can make on gun violence - getting kids to walk across the stage on graduation day. And that is the biggest impact that we as mayors can have.
CORLEY: Former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial, now the president of the Urban League, told mayors not to shrink, though, from the challenges that have come with the controversy and demonstrations over police. And he offered several bits of advice.
MARC MORIAL: Ask the question, how many civil rights complaints did we have? How many pending lawsuits do I have? Find out, get the facts, know what the situation is because only by knowing can you avoid being bit.
CORLEY: Tomorrow evening, many of the mayors will meet with President Obama. Yesterday, Karen Weaver, the mayor of Flint, Mich., met with the president to call for federal help saying the city and state can't handle the crisis over the lead contaminated drinking water in Flint.
KAREN WEAVER: This is something that nobody should have to deal with. Everybody should have clean water.
CORLEY: The president has declared it an emergency in Flint, qualifying the city for $5 million. But the mayor and now Governor Rick Snyder are asking for additional assistance. And Mayor Weaver also offered her own bit of advice to the mayors attending the conference.
WEAVER: Start monitoring what's going on with your water, the infrastructure, and don't let this happen where you live.
CORLEY: It was advice that many of the mayors said they will definitely heed. Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.