On Wednesday, May 27, Petal Mayor Hal Marx made a series of racist public statements online regarding the death of George Floyd.
The controversy began the day before, with Marx tweeting, “Why in the world would anyone choose to become a #PoliceOfficer in our society today?” Marx’s tweet was alluding to news that the four police officers, now arrested in the death of George Floyd from last Tuesday, were fired. Jason A. Darby responded to Marx’s tweet, generally stating that police need to learn how and when to use reasonable force.
Marx’s response to Darby caused major backlash. He tweeted, “If you are talking about the incident in MN, I don’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.”
Immediately following his posts, many Petal citizens criticized Marx. This included famous figures from Petal such as Indianapolis Colts Offensive Lineman Javon Patterson and Toronto Blue Jays Outfielder Anthony Alford.
His comments prompted city officials to release a statement on their Facebook page saying Marx’s comments were not representative of all leaders in the community. In addition to this, the Board of Alderman held a special meeting last Thursday, where they unanimously decided to ask Marx to resign.
Marx himself has apologized for his comments, saying that he did not express his thoughts well and apologized to the people of Petal for his insensitivity. However, he is currently refusing to step down.
“[T]he people elected me to serve until July 21, 2021. I cannot resign over something which I did not do. I did not make racist comments and I have not mistreated anyone,” said Marx to a Clarion Ledger source.
By not willingly stepping down, the people of Petal have united in protest. The protest started last Friday and continued throughout the entire weekend, starting off at Petal City Hall before gradually moving to the front of Marx’s home.
Pastor Christopher Preston, 51, of Rosehill Baptist Church in Columbia, MS, who aided in organizing the protests, shared his thoughts on the situation overall with the Mississippi Rising Coalition.
“We need Mayor Marx and everybody like him to understand that it is a new day. You may have freedom to say what you want, you may have freedom of speech, but if you speak the wrong thing, they need to know it’s going to cost you something,” said Preston.
People came from far and wide to call for Marx’s resignation. School of Information Sciences Professor Stacy Creel, 47, is a longtime neighbor of Hal Marx who joined in the protests over the weekend.
“The negative attention this has brought to Petal, which has a lot of good things going for it, [is what the city is] going to be known for. There’s no room for this racist remark in leadership. Even though my neighbors will not like me much after this, I’m fighting for what I believe in and that’s people should be treated equally, justly, and with respect,” said Creel.
Many Petal citizens and members of the Pine Belt region have bonded in their efforts to peacefully bring forth change in the city. Protestor Sarah Crock, 27, describes the unity during the protests between Hattiesburg and Petal.
“It’s important we’re all here together. Mississippi has a long history of racism, and that is something that has continued into today. As a white person, I think it is important to use my privilege and voice to speak out for the communities of color who may feel afraid or uncomfortable to speak out for themselves,” said Crock.
This Tuesday, Petal’s town hall meeting was packed with people inside and out, with citizens being able to question Mayor Marx in an open discussion. For the protestors, this is the beginning of a potentially long period of fighting for justice until Marx steps down.