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Reeves warns ‘anarchists and agitators’ will be dealt with harshly in George Floyd protests

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Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves in a news conference April 20. (Photo via video screen capture)

Gov. Tate Reeves addressed the killing of George Floyd during his daily news conference Monday.

Floyd, an African American, died May 25 at the hands of a white Minneapolis police officer who knelt on his neck as Floyd repeatedly said he could not breathe. Since then, protests against police brutality and historic injustice have exploded across the country. Some of the protests have become violent.

To date, Mississippi has seen a handful of protests, and all of them have been peaceful. Organizers have held protests in Jackson, Oxford and in Petal, where many are calling for the mayor to step down because of his controversial comments on Twitter. A protest march is planned for Friday in Vicksburg.

Reeves said he “came away disgusted and dismayed” after looking at the case, and that he prays for justice to be done.

“It was a tragedy, and people across the country have a right to be angry,” he said. “They have a right to be angry for more cases than just this one.”

The governor defended the rights of people to protest, calling it “among the most sacred rights in our country.”

Then, in language echoing that of the 1950s and ‘60s, he addressed the “anarchists and the agitators from other parts of the country,” calling them “spoiled kids who are privileged enough to not know consequences.”

“I want you to hear that there is no place for the anarchists and there is no place for antagonists here in Mississippi. Any efforts to do so will be overwhelmed. I am not threatening, I am promising that the full force of our state will be ready and willing to defend our communities. They will never stand back, they will lean in, and you will not like the results.”

Reeves went on to say, “We will swiftly, forcefully deal with those who only want disorder and violence.”

The governor’s full, prepared remarks from Monday are below.


I want to address the killing of George Floyd and the protests and riots that followed across the country.

I have always been careful to avoid prejudging any investigation. The officers involved in the death of George Floyd will have their day in court. But, like virtually everyone else who has looked at the case, I came away disgusted and dismayed. I pray that justice will be done, even though we know that it will not bring Mr. Floyd back to his family. It was a tragedy, and people across the country have a right to be angry. They have a right to be angry for more cases than just this one.

You have a right to protest. It is among the most sacred rights in our country: your right to protest the government. It is what makes us who we are. I applaud anyone who uses that right, and I will always defend your ability to do so.

In Mississippi, that has happened. With very few exceptions, it has been done without violence or defacement. Protestors were outside my home this weekend, and I heard their messages. I watched as they assembled in a manner that was forceful without descending into violence.

Our country has been uniquely united in condemning the killing of George Floyd. And there has been real opportunity for meaningful conversation around issues that too often divide us. The violent scenes in our major cities are unfortunately and tragically drowning that out.

I pray this is true: but I do not believe that there will be riots here. I know that the people of Mississippi do not want to burn down our own communities. Those people protesting want a voice, not violence.

We will never suppress speech and protest in Mississippi as long as I’m governor. We will make an honest effort to listen. These days, it seems like we’re always talking at each other or past each other rather than talking with each other Aiming for an audience, rather than a conversation. I do not want to contribute to that problem.

I also want to be clear: No one has a First Amendment right to burn or to loot. I truly believe that Mississippi protestors want no common cause with those who use them as cover for chaos. They want no violence. I want no violence. We are not eager for that possibility, but we are prepared.

I want to draw a bright line between two topics: Right here, let me be clear. I am not speaking to the protestors from Mississippi, I am only speaking to the anarchists and the agitators from other parts of the country that seem committed to violence. We’ve seen them all over the country the last few days, and frankly they are usually spoiled kids who are privileged enough to not know consequences, and they tend to co-opt protests that are nonviolent .

I want you to hear that there is no place for the anarchists and here is no place antagonists here in Mississippi. Any efforts to do so will be overwhelmed. I am not threatening, I am promising that the full force of our state will be ready and willing to defend our communities. They will never stand back, they will lean in, and you will not like the results.

This isn’t a game. This is our state. We will protect those who are protesting to make it better. And we will swiftly, forcefully deal with those who only want disorder and violence. Again, let me be clear: Those two are two different groups–one we should honor and one we must prosecute.

Lastly, for those who are planning future protests, I do not want to tell you how to peacefully express your anger. I simply want to ask you to remember that we are still facing a deadly pandemic. Please just consider that as you organize. I know that you care deeply about protecting the lives of your fellow demonstrators, and I hope you will not forget the risk of the coronavirus in doing so. From what I’ve seen, many of you are already doing that, but I just want to make sure that I encourage you to keep up. Wear a mask. Stay socially distanced. Be smart. Take care of yourselves and your fellow protestors.

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