Concerned citizens crammed into Petal City Hall Tuesday night to demonstrate against Mayor Hal Marx and his recent social media comments regarding the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.
During the Board of Aldermen’s regular monthly meeting, aldermen moved quickly through their routine agenda and opened up a time of public comment.
Numerous citizens – including many from Petal – took three minutes each to speak out against Marx, and most urged the mayor to resign.
One Petal citizen, who claimed to be a longtime enemy of Marx’s, defended the mayor, saying Marx made a “bone-headed comment” but that “the mayor didn’t have a racist bone in his body.”
Another citizen – who said he was from Forrest County – said he didn’t care if Marx was a racist, but he cared about the impact of the mayor’s statements on the area as a whole.
“Your statement offended the county, the city, the state, the people,” the citizen added. “You spoke for everyone, and you brought negativity to everyone. I hate your cockiness.”
The citizen, who said he protests daily in front of Marx’s house, said he will continue his peaceful demonstrations.
“I will continue to apply pressure to you,” he said. “I’m not out to get you or your family, but it’s you and I, Mr. Marx ... you’ll see a lot of me.”
A recent Petal High School graduate also spoke before Marx and the aldermen.
“Your words and choices have truly hurt our community and Petal as a city,” he said. “Mistakes have consequences, and you need to face those consequences. People have asked you to step down, and you refuse.”
Floyd died during the May 25 encounter with police, which occurred after a grocery store employee called authorities alleging Floyd tried to use a counterfeit $20 bill.
In a video uploaded to social media and widely shared, Floyd can be seen on the ground with his hands cuffed behind his back while a white officer, identified as Derek Chauvin, presses him to the pavement with his knee on Floyd’s neck for several minutes.
Floyd complains that he can’t breathe, and the video ends with paramedics lifting his limp body onto a stretcher and into an ambulance. Chauvin was fired and has been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
On May 26, Marx posted to his personal Facebook page that “If you can talk you can breathe,” and added “Think about that before you rush to judgment.” He added the hashtag “thinblueline,” a popular saying in support of law enforcement officers.
The mayor added to his comments in a Twitter reply later that day, saying he “…didn’t see anything unreasonable” with the incident and speculating that Floyd “…died of an overdose or heart attack. Video doesn’t show his resistance that got him in that position. Police being crucified.”
The mayor is known for his controversial remarks on Facebook and Twitter. A Facebook user submitted some of Marx’s past comments to The PineBelt NEWS, including his remarks that “Justice was done for George Zimmerman” in 2013. Zimmerman was acquitted for the killing of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old black high school student, and the case sparked significant media coverage and national protests.
Marx’s personal Facebook page is now set to private, and his Twitter page has been deleted.
On May 27, the Petal Board of Aldermen released a letter on the Petal city Facebook page saying Marx’s comments “…are not representative of all of our city leaders. We understand the frustrations his statements have caused.”
The statement added that Marx’s comments “are his personal views” and “he has the right to share those views on his personal page.” The aldermen ended the remarks by saying they were “saddened” by the recent events and that the city has “fine police officers who are properly trained and do a great job of keeping us all safe.”
In a special-called meeting on May 28, aldermen unanimously asked for Marx’s resignation, and they agreed to censure him. Aldermen also discussed cutting Marx’s salary and limiting his authority, but they tabled the pay cut motion until receiving an opinion from the Mississippi attorney general’s office.
“I have done nothing worthy of resigning,” said Marx in an exclusive interview with The PineBelt NEWS. “Maybe I didn’t articulate my thoughts in a way I should have, but they had nothing to do with race or racism.”
Three days of protests over Marx’s comments were held at City Hall beginning Friday. The protests were largely peaceful and drew large crowds, including more than 200 people on Saturday.
Marx was elected the sixth mayor of Petal in May 2009. He announced in September 2019 that he would not seek re-election to his office in 2021.