Scottsdale City Councilman Guy Phillips organized the protest against the mask following an order issued last week by the city’s Republican Mayor for residents to cover their noses and mouths “in most public areas ”
When Phillips, who put on a black mask, approached 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 his mask.
The councilman removed his mask when he rolled his eyes and threw his head back. “Madness,” he shouted at the crowd, which had erupted in applause.
Phillips, who was criticized by prominent Republicans in Arizona for the comments, later apologized to the Floyd family on Wednesday in a statement to The Arizona Republic after initially denying that his words had any connection to Floyd’s death.
“He didn’t deserve what happened to him and he was in no way trying to clarify it by saying I can’t breathe a mask,” Phillips told the newspaper. “Please accept my sincerest apologies and that is for anyone who has been 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 officers during his arrest. The three words, which were also echoed by Eric Garner, a black man who died in 2014 after declaring he couldn’t breathe while a New York police officer subdued him, have been at the forefront of recent national protests against death. and the Floyd Police. violence in the United States.
Following the 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 makes fun of the murder of a neighbor. it has no place in public office. ”
“George Floyd’s last words should NEVER be invoked like this,” Ducey wrote.
US Senator Martha McSally, a Republican from Arizona, also issued a scathing response to Phillips on Twitter, saying her comments were “despicable” and that “it is disgusting that they mock the last 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 callous.”
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 slow the spread of the deadly coronavirus.
Arizona, one of the first states to reopen, has seen an increase in cases in recent days. The state, which does not have a state order for residents to wear face masks, currently has more than 60,000 confirmed cases and more than 1,400 deaths reported by the virus, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Wearing masks has become a controversial topic in recent weeks as state and local leaders issue orders for residents to wear them in some public spaces. A flyer for the rally that Phillips recently shared on his Facebook page said attendees “oppose government intrusion on our personal choice” and that “education, not mandates, is the best way to handle this problem of Health”.
CNN’s Andy Rose contributed to this report.