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Mississippi mayor under fire over comments on George Floyd's death

Mayor Hal Marx of Petal, Mississippi, said he “didn’t see anything unreasonable” in the video of George Floyd's arrest. "If you can talk, you can breathe."
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

A Mississippi mayor is under fire for comments about the in-custody death of George Floyd, including his remark, “if you can talk, you can breathe.”

Floyd, 46, who was black, died in Minneapolis police custody after a white officer pinned him to the ground and put his knee on his neck for about eight minutes. Video footage shows him saying "I can't breathe" while on the ground.

Hal Marx, mayor of Petal, about 90 miles southeast of Jackson, weighed in on the video and the widespread criticism of officers involved, tweeting on Tuesday, “Why in the world would anyone choose to become a #PoliceOfficer in our society today?”

Full coverage of George Floyd's death and protests around the country

Marx, who could not immediately be reached by NBC News on Thursday morning, said he “didn’t see anything unreasonable” in the video that led to the firing of four Minneapolis police officers on Tuesday, and that the cops involved are being “crucified.”

“If you say you can’t breathe, you’re breathing. Most likely that man died of overdose or heart attack,” Marx wrote with no evidence, following up with another tweet that said “officers were not restricting his breathing.”

Marx was quickly criticized on social media. Offensive lineman for the Indianapolis Colts Javon Patterson tweeted, “You know as a former resident of Petal ... this is truly disturbing to see. To know that a leader of community feels right even posting this.”

Anthony Alford, an outfielder for the Toronto Blue Jays and graduate of Petal High School, also responded.

“How could you watch this video and make such an idiotic comment,” Alford wrote on Facebook.

In response to the backlash, Marx defended his comments, saying, “The tolerant progressives can’t tolerate a simple statement of fact,” according to NBC Jackson affiliate WLBT.

He also said that he meant that no one knows for certain how Floyd died or what the circumstances were before he was pinned to the ground by a police officer, according to the Hattiesburg American.

"I think that people are so quick to judge the police before they have all the facts," Marx said. "I can't say whether a crime was committed or whether they did anything right or wrong, all I'm saying is don't rush to judgment based on what you see in that video."

He added, "I've seen too many cases before where the police were judged to be guilty in the public's eye but later were found to be not guilty under the law.”

Marx also said that some responses to his comments have been extreme. “For sending that, all of a sudden I'm called racist, I need to have a knee put on my neck — all kinds of hateful stuff simply for having an opinion and asking people to get all the facts before they judge."

The city of Petal released a statement on Facebook on Wednesday saying Marx’s comments were “not representative of all of our city leaders.”

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“We understand the frustrations his statements have caused,” the city aldermen wrote. "Those comments are his personal views and he has the right to share his views on his personal page.”

In a subsequent statement, the city of Petal said the Board of Aldermen has called a special meeting Thursday to address concerns and discuss how to move forward after Marx's recent comments.

The 7 p.m. meeting will be open to the public and live-streamed on Facebook.

Four officers involved in Floyd’s arrest were fired Tuesday night. Floyd's family is calling for them to face charges, and protests broke out Tuesday and Wednesday in Minneapolis in response to the death.

Janelle Griffith contributed.