Mississippi mayor ignores calls to resign over comments on George Floyd's death

"What I said, came out in a way that I wish I said it differently," Hal Marx said at a special meeting Thursday night. "It wasn't to minimize that gentleman's death."
Image: Hal Marx
Hal Marx learns the results of the City of Petal's runoff election at the Forrest County Courthouse in Hattiesburg, Miss., on March 20, 2009.Matt Bush / The Hattiesburg American via AP file

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By Janelle Griffith

A Mississippi mayor who sparked outrage when he said “if you can talk, you can breathe" about the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody is resisting calls to resign, including from his city’s board of aldermen.

“Why in the world would anyone choose to become a #PoliceOfficer in our society today?” Hal Marx, mayor of Petal, about 90 miles southeast of Jackson, tweeted Tuesday, the same day four Minneapolis police officers involved in detaining Floyd were fired.

Floyd, 46, who was black, died in Minneapolis police custody after a white officer, Derek Chauvin, pinned him to the ground and put his knee on his neck for about eight minutes. Chauvin was arrested Friday and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.

In a follow-up tweet, Marx said: "If you are talking about the incident in MN, I didn’t see anything unreasonable. If you can say you can't breathe, you’re breathing. Most likely that man died of overdose or heart attack," with no evidence. He also said that the police involved were being "crucified."

Marx's Twitter account no longer exists, and it was unclear who deactivated it and why.

The Petal Board of Aldermen held a special meeting Thursday night where some residents demanded he resign. The meeting was broadcast live on Facebook.

Alderman Clint Moore led the meeting and read a statement before the board voted unanimously to ask for Marx's resignation. In Mississippi, an elected official can only be involuntarily removed from office if he or she has committed a felony, according to the Clarion Ledger.

"The city of Petal, Mississippi, and the cities surrounding have grown to be a place where individuals of all walks, backgrounds and beliefs are valued, supported and celebrated," Moore said. "It is our goal to continue to embrace our diverse community and prosper."

He said the strides made in the community have been great.

"Petal has become a hometown destination to many due to our excellent school district, safe way of life and community support," Moore said. "Recently, Mayor Hal Marx has taken to social media and repeatedly made comments that have isolated, enraged and belittled individuals in a way that is unbecoming of our city.

"Furthermore, these remarks have alienated certain groups of our population, which is counter productive to our diverse community. Over the past few days, the vast number of our constituents who have reached out to us showing their disapproval and disdain have made it obvious that we can no longer accept this reality."

Moore said the board believed Marx was "out of touch with the citizens" and unfit to continue in his capacity as mayor. Moore also said Marx's comments are not an embodiment of the values that the city stands for and pledged the board would take every action available to ensure that Marx's future as a leader in Petal is limited.

Moore's statement drew applause from the audience.

Marx said in response that his wife has often advised him to stay off social media and to watch what he said and had he listened to her, he "probably wouldn't have had some problems."

He said he did not think through what he said in his tweets to include sympathy for Floyd and his family.

"What I said, came out in a way that I wish I said it differently," Marx said. "It wasn't to minimize that gentleman's death."

He said what he meant was that no one knows for sure how Floyd died or what occurred before he was pinned to the ground by a Minneapolis police officer.

"I spoke impulsively before I really looked at the whole picture and my point was simply to say that, in situations like this, a lot of times there's a rush to judgment on things where things turn out to be differently than what they appear," he said. "That's my point. Nothing that I said in my mind was anything racial."

As Marx spoke, members of the audience shouted over him, with some residents saying this was not his first insensitive or racist remark on social media.

Marx said he declined the request to resign and that he did not believe he did anything that warrants his resignation.

Afterward, the board voted unanimously to ask for Marx's resignation.

Marx refused and said he does not believe in giving in to bullying and mob mentality.

Marx and Moore did not immediately return requests for comment Friday.

Many residents delivered emotional statements at Thursday's meeting.

Myla Cox, 17, a student at Brown University, who grew up in Petal, said she faced a stigma at the Ivy League school because she was from Mississippi.

"Everybody looked down on me, everybody saw the type of people that ran my city, specifically you," she told Marx. "People did a lot of research and they saw your social media and they saw what you said and what you openly didn't apologize for."

Cox said she had to work her freshman year to earn the respect of her peers.

"I'm very intelligent and for people to already have this kind of stigma because of words that you've said that didn't at all reflect my opinion infuriates me," Cox told Marx. "You not taking responsibility for things that you've openly said in the past ... shows who you are and we do not want you leading."