Despite planned protests and a petition calling for his removal, Petal Mayor Hal Marx said Thursday that he would not resign from his office following a string of controversial remarks made on social media regarding a fatal encounter between Minneapolis police and a black man named George Floyd.
“I have done nothing worthy of resigning,” said Marx. “Maybe I didn’t articulate my thoughts in a way I should have, but they had nothing to do with race or racism.”
Marx added that people were free to “exercise their First Amendment rights” in signing a petition or organizing protests. A petition called “Remove Hal Marx from Public Office” on change.org had nearly 5,000 signatures on Tuesday afternoon, and protests were planned by a political activist group at City Hall at noon on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
“The First Amendment (right to free speech) applies to me as well,” he said.
Floyd died during the Monday night 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.
On Tuesday, 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 Tuesday, 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 on Monday, 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 Wednesday night, 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.”
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.