PETAL, Miss. – At least 200 people protested Friday outside a Mississippi City Hall, calling for the resignation of a white mayor who sparked outrage when he said he “didn’t see anything unreasonable” about the death of an African American man in Minneapolis police custody.
Petal Mayor Hal Marx is resisting calls for his resignation, including from his own city's board of aldermen.
“Why in the world would anyone choose to become a police officer in our society today?” Marx tweeted Tuesday, the day four Minneapolis police officers were fired. George Floyd, 46, was handcuffed and pleading for air as a white police officer kneeled on his neck Monday.
In a follow-up tweet, the Republican directly referenced the Floyd case, saying he “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. Video doesn't show his resistance that got him in that position. Police being crucified.”
WDAM-TV carried live coverage of Friday's protest, which drew a racially diverse crowd.
“Accountability must come into effect for Hal Marx,” said Bobby Sims Jr., a pastor from the nearby city of Hattiesburg, told the crowd.
Sims and other speakers said Petal has long had a problem of police pulling over black drivers for little or no reason.
Indianapolis Colts offensive lineman Javon Patterson and Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Anthony Alford both criticized Marx on social media.
“You know as a former resident of Petal ... this is truly disturbing to see,” Patterson tweeted, attaching a screenshot of a Facebook post where Marx again said, “If you can talk you can breathe.”
"How could you watch this disturbing video and make such an idiotic comment. But this guy is supposed to be the leader of ‘the friendly city,'” Alford, a Petal High School alumnus, wrote on Facebook. “This is why it's important to vote people. You don't want people like Mayor Hal Marx in charge.”
Marx's Twitter account no longer exists.
The Petal Board of Aldermen held a special meeting Thursday, voting unanimously to ask for Marx's resignation, the Clarion Ledger reported.
“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 to our city,” Aldermen Clint Moore read from a statement.
Residents also called for his resignation, and protests are planned for the coming days. As Marx addressed the meeting, audience members shouted over him.
“You already have your minds made up about me,” he said.
Marx, who was first elected mayor in 2009 and entertained a run for governor in 2019, told the Hattiesburg American earlier this week that his remarks were misconstrued as racist, and that he was trying to caution people “to get all the facts before they judge” the police.
At Thursday's meeting, he said he and his family had received death threats and called people asking for resignation bullies.
“I will never surrender to the mob mentality,” he said. In Mississippi, elected officials can only be removed from office if they've committed felonies.
Myla Cox grew up in Petal, a city of a little more than 10,000 people just east of Hattiesburg. She said she's been judged at her college, Brown University, because of her hometown.
“Everybody looked down on me because they saw the type of people that run my city, specially you,” the newspaper quoted her as addressing Marx. “For you to come here today and say that we are bullies, and you to not hold accountability for your statements that we clearly do no agree with already shows what type of person you are.”