A Scottsdale City Council member who said “I can’t breathe” while wearing a face mask and addressing a crowd of protesters opposed to coronavirus rules has apologized.
Councilman Guy Phillips said “I can’t breathe” twice before taking off his mask at the rally Wednesday, video shows.
Those are the same words George Floyd, a Black man, said while pleading with a white police officer who was kneeling on his neck in Minneapolis before he died May 25. The officer seen kneeling on Floyd’s neck and three other officers have been fired and criminally charged.
Floyd’s death and video of the incident set off protests against racial injustice and calls for police reform across the country, including in Arizona. “I can’t breathe” has been chanted and repeated often by protesters.
“It was a stupid and insensitive comment that I shouldn’t have made, and I had no intention of disrespecting anybody while making that comment,” Phillips, who began his second term in 2017, said in a phone interview with NBC affiliate KPNX of Phoenix.
Phillips said he intended to show how restrictive masks are and not to mock Floyd, KPNX reported.
Phillips also apologized to Floyd’s family, The Arizona Republic reported.
“I am sorry about a comment I made today that was the same comment Mr. Floyd had made. 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,” Phillips said. “Please accept my sincerest apology and that goes out to anyone who became offended.”
The council member did not respond to a request seeking comment from NBC News on Wednesday night.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey condemned Phillips’ remarks.
“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,” Ducey tweeted.
Scottsdale Mayor W.J. “Jim” Lane called Phillips’ comments “do not represent the values of our Scottsdale community.”
“I share the profound disappointment expressed by many residents at the words Mr. Phillips chose — to use the phrase ‘I can’t breathe’ during this moment in time was callous and insensitive,” Lane said in a statement. “I sincerely hope he understands how wrong that was and offers a sincere apology.”
Masks have been mandated in areas of Arizona, where coronavirus cases have been climbing. Infections have been rising in Maricopa County, where Scottsdale is, as well.
Scottsdale’s mayor last week issued an emergency proclamation requiring people to wear face coverings to help slow the spread of the virus. Face coverings are required in grocery stores, pharmacies, restaurants and other places. Maricopa County also ordered a countywide mask requirement.
The Maricopa County health department says the number of people diagnosed with the disease caused by the virus, COVID-19, has been steadily increasing each day because there is increased spread in the community.
As of Wednesday, 34,993 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Maricopa County with 654 deaths, according to the county health department.
Maricopa County, home to Scottsdale and Phoenix and others, has the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the state by far, according to data on the state health department website.
Statewide, there have been nearly 60,000 cases and 1,463 deaths.
In the United States, there have been more than 2.39 million cases of COVID-19, with more than 122,500 deaths linked to the disease, according to an NBC News count.