SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) – A city council member in suburban Phoenix is drawing criticism from the governor and others after invoking George Floyd’s dying words of “I can’t breathe” during a protest over an order to wear masks to stop the spread of coronavirus.
Scottsdale Councilman Guy Phillips uttered the remark at a protest Wednesday but later insisted the comment was about mandatory masks and not police misconduct.
The words were the last said by Floyd, who died May 25 after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck while he was handcuffed and lying on the ground. His death prompted worldwide protests against police brutality and racial injustice.
“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,” Republican Gov. Doug Ducey said in a Twitter post.
Phillips told The Arizona Republic in a text that the comment had no connection to Floyd.
“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,” he said to Floyd’s family in a separate apology.
Phillips deleted his Twitter accounts shortly after receiving criticism over his remarks. He did not immediately respond to multiple phone calls from the Associated Press seeking comment.
The rally came after Scottsdale Mayor Jim Lane issued an emergency proclamation on June 18 requiring all residents to wear face coverings in public, as the number of reported COVID-19 cases continued to rise.
Mayors around the state have issued similar mandatory mask policies in response to the spike in COVID-19 cases in Arizona.
Phillips argued the mandate is not warranted and will place “undue hardship” on local businesses and has instead suggested an education program and best practices.
Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone also condemned Phillips’ remark, calling the councilman a disgrace, KPHO-TV reported. Penzone’s jurisdiction includes the city of Scottsdale, outside Phoenix.
“A man choking to death at the hands of law enforcement and 125,000 American lives lost due to COVID complications are real tragedies affecting real people. An elected official using it as a punchline is unforgivable. Councilman Phillips, you are a disgrace,” Penzone said.
A petition on Change.org is calling for Phillips’ resignation.