A GOP Arizona city councilman apologized Wednesday for mocking the dying words of George Floyd during a protest he organized against a local order to wear face masks amid the coronavirus pandemic — comments that drew the ire of several prominent Republicans in the state.
Scottsdale City Councilman Guy Phillips organized the anti-mask protest following an order issued last week by the city’s Republican mayor for residents to cover their noses and mouths “in most public areas.”
As Phillips, who donned a black face mask, took to the microphone Wednesday morning to address the protesters, he declared: “I can’t breathe.”
“I can’t breathe,” Phillips said a second time, as people in the crowd urged him to remove the mask.
The councilman then pulled off the mask as he rolled his eyes and threw his head back. “Insanity,” he shouted to the crowd, which had erupted in applause.
Phillips, who was blasted by prominent Republicans in Arizona for the comments, apologized later Wednesday to the Floyd family in a statement to The Arizona Republic after initially denying his words had any connection to Floyd’s death.
“He didn’t deserve what happened to him and I by no means was trying to make light of it by saying I cant breathe in a mask,” Phillips told the paper. “Please accept my sincerest apology and that goes out to anyone who became offended.”
CNN has reached out to Phillips for comment.
Floyd, a Black man who died last month at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis, repeated the words “I can’t breathe” as his neck and back were compressed by the officers during his arrest. The three words, which were also repeated by Eric Garner, a Black man who died in 2014 after pleading that he couldn’t breathe while a New York police officer subdued him, have been at the forefront of recent nationwide protests against Floyd’s death and police violence in America.
Following Phillips’ rally, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, said in a tweet that “Despicable doesn’t go far enough” to describe the councilman’s comments, adding: “Anyone who mocks the murder of a fellow human has no place in public office.”
“The final words of George Floyd should NEVER be invoked like this,” Ducey wrote.
US Sen. Martha McSally, an Arizona Republican, also issued a scathing response to Phillips on Twitter, saying his comments were “despicable” and that “it’s disgusting you are mocking the dying words of a murdered man.”
Scottsdale Mayor Jim Lane also criticized the councilman, writing in his own tweet that Phillips’ use of the words “I can’t breathe” was “callous and insensitive.”
The anti-mask rally organized by Phillips, who has been on the Scottsdale City Council for seven years, comes as health officials continue to urge Americans to wear masks to curb the spread of the deadly coronavirus.
Arizona, one of the first states to reopen, has been seeing an uptick in cases in recent days. The state, which does not have a statewide order for residents to wear face masks, currently has more than 60,000 confirmed cases and more than 1,400 reported deaths from the virus, according to Johns Hopkins University.
The wearing of masks has become a contentious issue in recent weeks as state and local leaders issue orders for residents to wear them in some public spaces. A flier for the rally that Phillips recently shared on his Facebook page said attendees “oppose government intrusion into our personal choice” and that “education, not mandates, is the best way to handle this health concern.”