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Scottsdale councilman apologizes for 'I can't breathe' comment at anti-mask rally

"I can't breathe! I can't breathe!" Phillips said at the start of his rally remarks before pulling off a black face mask and speaking to the crowd.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Scottsdale City Councilman Guy Phillips is doing damage control after he says comments he made at an anti-mask rally he was leading were taken out of context.

"I can't breathe! I can't breathe!" Phillips said at the start of his remarks before pulling off a black face mask and speaking, to a crowd of a few hundred anti-mask supporters outside Scottsdale City Council Wednesday morning.

The phrase "I can't breathe" came to prominence after the deaths of Eric Garner and George Floyd in police custody. The phrase is often chanted at rallies and protests against police brutality.

"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 told 12 News over the phone.

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Phillips said he felt awful about the situation and that his intent was to show how restrictive he felt masks were, not to mock George Floyd.

But politicians were quick to condemn his choice of words.

Gov. Doug Ducey said in a tweet that the comments were "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."

Scottsdale Mayor Jim Lane slammed the councilman in a statement on Twitter, calling his comments “callous and insensitive” and said he hoped Phillips would apologize.

"It was about a mask and all I can say is I apologize to Floyd’s family and I hope they’re not upset about it or anybody else that took offense to it."

This all unfolded at a rally outside Scottsdale City Hall to protest the city and countywide mask mandates, which took effect last week after Ducey gave cities the green light to make their own rules. 

Scottsdale is one of several Arizona cities with new rules in place that require people to wear masks in public places like restaurants, stores and gyms to try and stop the spread of COVID-19.

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