The actions of Scottsdale Councilman Guy Phillips during his anti-mask protest on June 24 using the phrase “I can’t breathe,” accompanied by video evidence, some say may cost him his political career.
Mr. Phillips uttered the words “I can’t breathe,” which have become a well-known phrase attributed to George Floyd who died in police custody in May, while he protested wearing a face mask in front of Scottsdale City Hall June 24.
Later that day, Mr. Phillips issued an email apology saying he wasn’t trying to make light of what happened to Mr. Floyd.
In less than 24 hours, Mr. Phillips’ words have been shared thousands of times on social media, resulting in a vocal call for resignation from colleagues, constituents and citizens across the county. Additionally, a Change.org petition has been created calling for his resignation.
Mr. Phillips’ City Council term is up at the end of this year, but he is running for re-election at the August primary.
Gov. Doug Ducey, Senator Martha McSally, Mayor Jim Lane, councilmembers, City Council candidates and residents have expressed distaste at Mr. Phillips words --- in addition to countless others across the country with no connection to Scottsdale.
Mr. Lane was one of the first people to ask Mr. Phillips to apologize for his actions in a Facebook post a few hours after the rally.
“Councilman Phillips’ comments at his anti-mask protest rally today at City Hall 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. I sincerely hope he understands how wrong that was and offers a sincere apology,” Mr. Lane said on Facebook.
His post has more than 850 comments.
Mr. Phillips issued an emailed apology around 4:30 p.m. the same day, stating he was sorry about the comment he made.
“To the family of George Floyd --- 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. Please accept my sincerest apology and that goes out to anyone who became offended,” Mr. Phillips stated.
Gov. Ducey denounced Phillips’ actions on Twitter that evening with a strong statement: “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.”
The anti-mask rally was organized by Mr. Phillips and announced over the weekend.
“We believe education, not mandates, is the best way to handle this health concern,” a flier for the rally posted by Mr. Phillips stated. “We are not opposed to those with health concerns who need to wear masks. We oppose government intrusion into our personal choice. Government overreach must be checked. An education campaign for best practices is preferred to force. We want everyone to stay healthy and pray this virus will be over soon.”
People showed up to Mr. Phillips’ rally, but his “I can’t breathe” comments have now overshadowed the event’s purpose, it appears.
Beyond politicians speaking out against Mr. Phillips’ actions, the social media videos have now reached Hollywood.
Charlie Adler, who is credited with being the voice of Looney Tunes’ Buster Bunny, among other things, said: “I demand the immediate removal of Guy Phillips from [Scottsdale] City Council immediately. If this is acceptable to you than no one should visit or stay in your city until you correct this disgusting display and prevent it from every happening again!”
Actress Debra Messing said, “THIS is RACISM and it must not be tolerated.”
Locally, mayoral candidates Virginia Korte and Suzanne Klapp issued statements.
“I was present at the protest, as an observer, and I gasped when I heard Councilman Phillips speak those words. Phillips use of those three words is irresponsible, insensitive, disrespectful, reprehensible and dangerous,” Ms. Korte said.
“Phillips does not represent me nor what I believe are the values and principles of our city. To have our community represented in this manner, on a national platform, is a disgrace and does long-term damage to Scottsdale’s reputation.”
Ms. Klapp called for Mr. Phillips to resign from council.
“I am appalled by Councilman Guy Phillips’ use of the term ‘I can’t breathe’ to illustrate his disdain for wearing a mask as ordered by the city recently. He knows well the protesting occurring here and across the country and the use of the ‘I can’t breathe’ term by protesters to condemn the strangulation killing by police of George Floyd,” Ms. Klapp said.
“I suggest Councilman Phillips should contemplate the severity of his comments and his actions and the harm he has caused the city locally and nationally. I encourage him to look inward, and his conscience will dictate that he resign from the council.”
City Council candidates Tammy Caputi, Bill Crawford, Tom Durham, Betty Janik, John Little and Kevin Maxwell all issued statements. Mr. Crawford stated, Phillips’ true character was revealed, and called for his resignation.
Ms. Caputi said, in part: “Mocking mask-wearing and offensively implying that it is equivalent to being strangled to death is reprehensible and disgusting.”
Scottsdale residents are outraged as well. On Facebook, Jan Dolan said: “He continues to say insensitive,stupid and racist remarks and then say he didn’t mean it and is sorry! That is unacceptable, especially in an elected official! Resign!”
Followed by Jennifer McDowell who called for Phillips’ resignation.
James Vigil said, “Guy put a stain on our city!”
Andrea Alley asked, “How is he still a sitting council member today?”
“This disgraceful schmuck has brought shame to our city at the national level. The only thing that will make us look worse is if he refuses to resign after what he did. He has lost his police and fire endorsements, and has been disgraced by every major leader in our state,” Ms. Alley said.
Mr. Phillips did not immediately respond to phone and text message inquires following his rally.
His last Facebook post, June 24, has dozens of comments --- many of which are lauding him for his leadership to stand up against masks and thanking him for organizing the event.
One comment stated, “Don’t worry Guy, the rage mob will be silent within 24 hours,” and congratulated him on trending on Twitter.