Councilman Guy Phillips claimed the statement had nothing to do with George Floyd or the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests, but few believe him.
At an anti-mask rally in Scottsdale, Arizona, on Wednesday, Councilman Guy Phillips walked on stage with a black mask on. Before promptly taking it off and breathing a deep sigh of relief, he echoed into the mic, "I can't breathe." While no one at the rally thought this to be insensitive, a video of the incident has been circulated online. The Councilman has since been the target of harsh criticism, which is of course not unwarranted. In addition to all the backlash, there have been calls for him to step down from his post. While it is unlikely that he will do so, he has released a statement of apology, The Washington Post reports.
Here’s video of Scottsdale City Councilman Guy Phillips shouting "I Can't Breathe" before removing his mask at today's Anti-Mask Rally in Arizona:— Rex Chapman🏇🏼 (@RexChapman) June 25, 2020
Mocking Eric Garner & George Floyd and many others in this moment is something I feel compelled to expose...pic.twitter.com/4drg23zWUD
The Councilman first appeared on stage with a black face mask on. The audience began shouting, "Take the mask off!" He said into the mic, "I can't breathe." He even repeated the statement a second time. After a couple of chants, Phillips finally obeyed the audience's orders to a round of cheers and applause. His actions have since rightly been called "callous" and insensitive. "I can't breathe" were the last words spoken by George Floyd, an unarmed Black man killed by a White police officer in Minneapolis. They were also the last words of Eric Garner, another Black victim of police brutality. To use their words to fight for one's right to kick public health into the gutter during a pandemic is cold-blooded and uncalled for.
Once the video of the incident went viral on the internet, several politicians representing the state called Phillips out for his apathy. Arizona Governor Doug Ducey wrote on Twitter, "Just flat out wrong. Despicable doesn’t go far enough. The final words of George Floyd should NEVER be invoked like this. Anyone who mocks the murder of a fellow human has no place in public office. Period." Senator Martha McSally called his actions "despicable." While everyone rained down criticism, the Councilman argued in an interview with Arizona Republic that the comment had nothing to do with Floyd at all.
To be clear, Phillips did not have the mask on directly before he went up to speak.— Lorraine Longhi 🌵 (@lolonghi) June 24, 2020
He specifically put the mask on before he went up there and said “I can’t breathe.” https://t.co/p27VEtqewH pic.twitter.com/NjossoRCQh
He claimed it was simply "hot and sweaty" and that he "meant no disrespect." If this is true, the comments are at best tone-deaf and ignorant. It must be noted that if he were truly sorry and did not mean to "make light" of the current political scenario, he would not have invoked the recent Black Lives Matter protests as a criticism of the government's lockdown mandates. Councilman Phillips said in his remarks at the rally, "You can’t open your businesses, but rioters and looters are allowed to ransack them. You can’t go to church. You can’t go to funerals. You can’t go to your child’s birth. But it’s okay to protest in the streets. Now we all have to wear masks or we face fines or jail time?" Regardless of his true sentiments, Phillips followed up with a formal apology to the Floyd family.
The absolutely disgusting thing about this is the cheers he got from the racist white crowd! There were even confederate flags! Scottsdale people at their finest! pic.twitter.com/UiLWHZeJ73— Ann Bailey (@CathyJantzen4) June 25, 2020
"I am sorry about a comment I made today that was the same comment Mr. Floyd had made," he stated. "He didn’t deserve what happened to him and I by no means was trying to make light of it by saying 'I can't breathe' in a mask. Please accept my sincerest apology and that goes out to anyone who became offended." This is the second time the Councilman has had to apologize for his insensitive remarks. Phillips wrote in a Facebook post uploaded in March, "Hate to break this to all of the morons who call themselves Journalists. COVID literally stands for ‘Chinese Originated Viral Infectious Disease’ and the number 19 is due to this being the 19th virus to come out of China." As well know, it actually stands for Coronavirus disease 2019. He wrote in a column for Arizona Review following national backlash: "I have been made aware of my ignorance. I hope and pray others will also take a moment and think before they post or repost any exchange of information to make sure it is not only accurate but promotes healing and goodwill." Despite his flimsy apology, if you are outraged by his bigotry, you can contact the Scottsdale Council offices to file a complaint.