IN THE NEWS: PROTESTOR LORRAINE BATES “AS LONG AS I’VE GOT MY HEALTH AND MY STRENGTH, I’LL BE OUT HERE EVERY DAY.”
When Hal Marx, the mayor of Petal, Mississippi learned about the death of George Floyd, he used Twitter to express his personal thoughts on the heinous killing and the political protest that followed: “If you 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.” Marx also commented that “he didn’t see anything unreasonable.”
Marx received immediate backlash from Petal’s community and beyond. Protests were organized outside of their city hall, with hundreds of people in attendance. The protesters demanded that Marx step down as mayor. Marx’s tweet and account were deleted, and he apologized for being insensitive, while maintaining that what he said was not racist, and he would not step down for a racist act he didn’t commit.
The crowds of people have died down, but it is not the end of protesting against Marx. One woman, Lorraine Bates, continues to march in front of city hall every day in an attempt to remove him from office. Lorraine started protesting when she was 13, during the Civil Rights movement. She painfully remembers the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Since that time, she has avoided being involved in civil protest. However, Lorraine couldn’t look away or remain silent when George Floyd was murdered. She put back on her marching shoes—but this time she was 70, not 13. This time she required a walker to make the one-mile trek to city hall every day. She has no other method of transportation, “So I just take my little buggie, my stroller and I just walk.”
Lorraine spends around four hours a day in front of city hall. She plays speeches of Martin Luther King Jr. as she walks. She wears white robes that flow behind her as she walks, chains around her wrists and ankles, a noose around her neck, and her clothes are decorated with different slogans. One article of clothing reads “Black Lives Matter,” while another has some of Floyd’s last words “Mama / I can’t breath / My son / Your son.” There are times where she sings out those words. When asked about her outfit, Lorraine has responded “This here is their design, it’s not my design. I’m just using it for a while. I just wanted to try it on, show them what they did to us for so long.” What she means by their design is the design of the KKK robe, the noose, and chains around her body. Occasionally, people support her by sitting nearby or talk to her and take pictures. Another time, a man spat at her. She continues to demand that Marx resign as a tribute to George Floyd.
When asked about Floyd, Lorraine says, “[George] was breathing for his life. I’d never seen anybody get murdered. He really killed that man in front of us all. It broke my heart. Then I heard about what [Hal] did and that was just the icing on the cake.” She notes that she isn’t continuing to act for herself, but for her family. “I’m here because I have six grandsons. When they put their knee on George Floyd’s neck, they might as well have put it on my grandson.” Despite Marx refusing to step down as mayor, Lorraine remains committed to her cause: “…the protests didn’t stop Sunday. The protests here continue on until this matter is solved. It needs to stop. But as long as it’s going on, and I got life in my body, I’m going to protest.” Lorraine also mentions she is aware that the entire Black community, including herself, is in danger, “…I’m going to… hope and pray the good Lord watches out for me. If something happens, it was just my time. All of us is walking on death row.”