The smartest thing Hal Marx has done in the past week is take down his Twitter account.
That social media platform has made the previously little-known mayor of Petal a national pariah after he posted a comment that defended the indefensible — a white Minneapolis police officer’s excessive use of force that allegedly resulted in the death of a handcuffed black man he was helping to arrest.
When Marx hit that Tweet button with the following insensitive comment — “If you can talk you can breathe” — he opened himself for a barrage of vilification and demands for his resignation, including from the South Mississippi town’s own Board of Aldermen.
As of this writing, Marx, now in his third term, says he is not going to step down. If he lies low, he probably can wait it out until some other crisis or politician’s stupidity draws the nation’s attention away from him.
Still, Marx demonstrates why those who try to emulate Donald Trump usually end up regretting it.
Trump, because he is so shameless and has such a blindly loyal core of support, can get away with doing and saying almost anything. The more outrageous, the more his core supporters like it. Whether they agree with the president or just find his punch-in-the-mouth style of verbal banter entertaining, they aren’t bothered when he steps over the line of decorum or good sense.
Most other politicians don’t have that kind of following, especially on the local level. Marx has embarrassed his city of 11,000, which had been previously known mostly for its good public schools and relative prosperity. It apparently is fed up with a mayor whose history of inappropriate comments on social media have made it look not just conservative, but backward and racist.
He has said that he didn’t intend any racial overtones in his comments questioning whether George Floyd, the black man in Minneapolis, really died from having an officer’s knee pressed against his neck for several minutes, pinning him to the ground. If so, Marx showed an incredible lack of racial sensitivity for not realizing that’s how they would be taken.
When a white mayor in Mississippi, a state with a troubled racial past, defends a white policeman who, from all appearances, smugly killed a black man over a minor offense, how could he not see that it would come across as racist? If he’s too clueless to see that, maybe he does need to step down.
The relationship between police and black Americans is terrain fraught with emotional minefields. Decades of disproportionately harsh responses to blacks accused of crimes has created a charged atmosphere that can boil over when a confrontation between a white cop and a black suspect goes bad.
We saw that in New York with the death of Eric Garner. We saw that in Ferguson, Missouri, with the death of Michael Brown. We saw that in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with the death of Alton Sterling. And now we’re seeing it in Minneapolis with the death of George Floyd.
The reaction of protesters in that Minnesota city is horrifying and sadly self-destructive. The looting, the fires, the destroying of not just innocent businesses but also housing designed to give low-income residents better options may be the manifestation of understandable anger and frustration. Still, it cannot be tolerated. Those responsible for the arson and thefts should be found and prosecuted.
Minneapolis was not pushing Floyd’s death under the rug. The city quickly fired Derek Chauvin, the officer seen kneeling for an excessively long time on Floyd’s neck, and the three other officers who participated in the arrest. State and federal officials almost immediately began an investigation, which resulted Friday in manslaughter and murder charges against Chauvin.
Rather than rioting, the protesters should have been a little patient. A civil society cannot allow lawlessness to prevail because the justice system is not moving as fast as some would like or because it doesn’t produce the outcome some want.
It does not help the situation, however, for a person in public office, even from a relatively small city more than 1,000 miles away from Minneapolis, to add to the tensions.
What’s happening in Minneapolis may not stay in Minneapolis. Sympathy protests over Floyd’s death are already being staged at several cities around the country, some of which have escalated into violence.
It is irresponsible for anyone, especially those in public office, to do anything that might trigger an eruption in their own community. It wouldn’t take much. Even a thoughtless tweet might do it.
That’s something Marx might consider should he get tempted to reactivate his Twitter account.
Contact Tim Kalich at 581-7243 or email@example.com.