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Mississippi mayor defends officers in George Floyd's death: 'If you can talk, you can breathe'

A Mississippi mayor is facing intense criticism for comments defending the Minneapolis police officers involved in the arrest of George Floyd, an African American man whose death prompted protests around the country and widespread calls for an investigation.

Floyd, 46, died on Monday after being detained by officers, the Minneapolis Police Department said. Video of the arrest showed that the arresting officer pinned Floyd to the pavement and knelt on his neck for several minutes as Floyd repeatedly said, "I cannot breathe."

The footage prompted intense outrage nationwide, with many lawmakers calling for the arrest of the officer who pinned Floyd to the ground. 

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Hal Marx, the mayor of Petal, Miss., a town about 90 miles southeast of Jackson, first commented on the arrest on Tuesday, tweeting, “Why in the world would anyone choose to become a #PoliceOfficer in our society today?”

He later argued that he didn't see any "unreasonable" conduct from the officers, adding: "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," he continued. 

Marx's Facebook and Twitter accounts appear to have been taken down since the posts were first shared.

The backlash the remarks caused prompted the City of Petal, a town of about 10,000 people, to release a statement on Facebook noting that Marx's opinions were "not representative of all of our city leaders."

"We understand the frustrations his statements have caused," the statement read. "We strive to love everyone and care for people from all walks of life and backgrounds here in the Friendly City."

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Javon Patterson, an offensive lineman for the Indianapolis Colts who is from Petal, and Anthony Alford, an outfielder for the Toronto Blue Jays and graduate of Petal High School, were among many on social media to respond to Marx's comments. 

"You know as a former resident of Petal ... this is truly disturbing to see," Patterson tweeted. "To know that a leader of community feels right even posting this."

"This is why it’s important to vote people. You don’t want people like Mayor Hal Marx in charge," Alford wrote on Facebook.

Marx has claimed that his initial comments were misinterpreted. He told the The Hattiesburg American on Wednesday that he thought people were "so quick to judge the police" before they had all the facts and that he wanted to stress the need for patience.

"I can't say whether a crime was committed or whether they did anything right or wrong, all I'm saying is don't rush to judgment based on what you see in that video," he said. 

He posted on his Facebook page Wednesday that "the tolerant progressives can't tolerate a simple statement of fact and a request not to rush to judgement," according to a screenshot taken by NBC affiliate WLBT

The Minneapolis Police Department on Tuesday fired the four officers involved in the arrest of Floyd. The FBI and Justice Department began investigations into the incident in the days since the arrest. 

“The Department of Justice has made the investigation a top priority and has assigned experienced prosecutors and FBI criminal investigators to the matter,” U.S. Attorney Erica MacDonald and FBI Special Agent in Charge Rainer Drolshagen said in a joint statement on Thursday. 

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