After video of the October 16, 2014, shooting of Laquan McDonald was released last week, Emanuel asked the city's police superintendent to resign Tuesday. Some activists and political opponents say that Emanuel, a three-term congressman and former chief of staff to President Barack Obama, should step down as well.
He insisted Wednesday he would not heed those calls.
"We have a process called the election," he said at an event sponsored by Politico. "The voters spoke. I'll be held accountable for the decisions and actions that I make."
That Emanuel -- who's been a high-profile Democratic political warrior for decades in Congress and in the White House -- is struggling so publicly is significant. His trademark brash attitude, which helped earn him his power and status, is running headlong into a national movement confronting police brutality and racial discrimination.
For a politician who's had a habit of making enemies throughout his career, Emanuel is now trying to make amends.
"I don't think this is the end of the problem," he said Tuesday, after announcing a task force on police accountability. "I think this is beginning of the solution. And we're going to work through this on a consistent basis to make the changes."
That's not enough for some Chicago activists -- as well as some high-profile national voices. When asked by CNN's Don Lemon on Tuesday whether he should go, movie director Spike Lee said, "I think so."
"They're calling for Rahm's neck too, his head," Lee said. "A lot of questions have to be answered. Who made the decision? Why was this tape was held for so long? And who saw the tape?"
Lee premiered his movie, "Chi-Raq" in Chicago on Tuesday evening, a film based in the Windy City and focusing on its gun violence.
Johnetta Elzie, an activist affiliated with Campaign Zero, an organization aiming to end police violence, tweeted that Emanuel is part of the problem.
"By these standards @RahmEmanuel, you should be dismissed as well," she tweeted Tuesday.
University of Chicago graduate student Devon Jerome Crawford, who was arrested Monday with NAACP President Cornell William Brooks while protesting outside of Chicago City Hall, told CNN Tuesday that Emanuel needs to resign.
"Mayor Rahm Emanuel is implicated in the shooting death of Laquan McDonald," he said. "This killing indicates the detachment of city leaders from the plight of black, teenage youth on the South Side of Chicago and a willingness by the city to criminalize blackness as opposed to reforming structural inequality."
Exacerbating the fallout of from the shooting that killed McDonald is that the video was released more than a year after the initial incident, a time period during which Emanuel was reelected.
Rahiel Tesfamariam, an activist and publisher of Urban Cusp magazine, questioned whether Emanuel's career would have survived if the video had come to light sooner.
"Would Chicago have re-elected @RahmEmanuel if they knew about #LaquanMcDonald? If he won't resign (he won't), then demand a mayoral recall," she tweeted Tuesday.
The controversial video was made public only after a freelance journalist filed suit, arguing that it was public record. The city went to court to prevent its being released, arguing that doing so would interfere with a federal investigation and a probe by the state's attorney. A judge sided with the journalist, and the footage was released last week.
Jason Van Dyke, the officer who shot McDonald, has been charged with first-degree murder.
Emanuel has repeatedly denied that he was involved in keeping the video from being released for political gains, though his re-election opponent, Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, accused him of such.
"The mayor has been involved in an effort to conceal information regarding this incident, this tragedy, this miscarriage of justice," Garcia told Chris Cuomo on CNN's "New Day." "It was obvious that the video would have had a profound impact had it been released when it occurred and the mayor has taken great steps to ensure that it is concealed."
Chicago Alderman Will Burns says many of the calls for Emanuel's resignation are from people who have long opposed the mayor politically and may be using McDonald's death to air their grievances.
"There are people who have called for Rahm Emanuel's resignation, but a lot of those people supported ... Garcia in the last election," he told CNN on Tuesday. "The idea that people who weren't previously supportive of Rahm Emanuel would suddenly be supportive now fails the test of logic."
Burns, the son of a police officer, is optimistic that the city's new leaders can implement the changes needed.
"We just got elected in 2015. We've got a long way to go before the 2019 cycle to deal with these issues," he said. "I think there's a lot of momentum within the black caucus in the City Council for systematic changes."
Although Sylvia Ewing worked on Garcias' mayoral campaign against Emanuel, she told CNN Tuesday that Emanuel resigning is not in the best interest of Chicagoans.
"Growing into a leader who is a servant of the people is what he must do," said Ewing, who teaches leadership at Columbia College Chicago. "I hope he will learn the lesson of Mayor Daley before him and use his second term to bring some of his critics into his administration."