SCOTTSDALE, AZ — On Wednesday, as he faced a crowd of 150 mostly maskless people, Scottsdale City Councilman Guy Phillips used the phrase "I can't breathe" — the same words uttered by George Floyd while he lost consciousness beneath the knee of a Minneapolis police officer — as he launched into a speech critical of the city's mandatory mask ordinance.
Now, Phillips is facing calls for his resignation.
"Just flat out wrong. Despicable doesn’t go far enough," Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey tweeted that night while sharing a video of Phillips' remarks.
"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."
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. https://t.co/l0wyVE2BP4
— Doug Ducey (@dougducey) June 25, 2020
Ducey's outrage — and the description of Phillips' actions as "despicable" — was echoed by former Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and current U.S. Sen. Martha McSally.
"Despicable," McSally wrote. "This is a serious moment in history and it's disgusting you are mocking the dying words of a murdered man."
Despicable. This is a serious moment in history and it's disgusting you are mocking the dying words of a murdered man. https://t.co/71YqW1KYmB
— Martha McSally (@SenMcSallyAZ) June 25, 2020
During his speech, Phillips compared the city's ordinance requiring masks be worn in public to communism. He was not wearing a mask before he took the stage, according to a tweet by Arizona Republic reporter Lorraine Longhi, who was filming Phillips as he began his speech. (The moment was also captured by a Fox 10 Facebook Live video, at roughly the 27-minute mark.)
"I can't breathe," Phillips said into a microphone. "I can't breathe."
Then, taking off the mask, Phillips looked to the sky and shrugged in a dramatic display of relief.
"Insanity," Phillips then said. "Insanity."
Phillips, who is up for re-election in August, announced the anti-mask protest over the weekend through a Facebook post directed at "Any Citizen of AZ who believes wearing a mask is a personal choice, and not a mandate."
Phillips later apologized.
"It was a stupid and insensitive comment that I shouldn’t have made and I had no intention of disrespecting anybody," he told KPNX news.
Although guidance on mask-wearing has been the subject of conflicting statements in the past, recent research — coupled with an alarming spike in infections and hospitalizations — has spurred local leaders in Scottsdale and other cities in Arizona to mandate the wearing of masks in public. Maricopa County issued its own mandatory mask ordinance last week.
According to the Maricopa County Health Department, "There is building evidence that wearing mask can provide some protection to both the individual wearing it as well as others around them."
Phillips has drawn controversy over his coronavirus-related views in the past. In March, he shared Facebook post that incorrectly stated that the acronym "COVID-19" stands for "Chinese Originated Viral Infectious Disease." He later apologized for not checking the post's validity and, in an op-ed for the Arizona Republic, acknowledged reports of racist abuse directed at Chinese and Asian Americans.
In the apology op-ed, Phillips wrote that he'd learned, "how misinformation can lead to ill feelings towards others and potentially produce horrible consequences."