The councilman was also rebuked in March for sharing a Facebook post containing false information about COVID-19.
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.
Phillips, who also owns an air-conditioning business called Budget Technical, has since claimed the remark had nothing to do with Floyd’s death.
In an apology to Floyd’s family, Phillips said, “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.”
“I can’t breathe” has been used as a rallying cry against police brutality since Eric Garner’s death in 2014. They were Garner’s dying words as a New York City police office held him in a chokehold.
Multiple Arizona political figures have called on Phillips to resign, including Democrat Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone.
“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,” Penzone tweeted. “An elected official using it as a punchline is unforgivable. Councilman Phillips, you are a disgrace.
Even fellow Republicans condemned the remark.
Sen. Martha McSally called the incident “despicable.”
“This is a serious moment in history and it’s disgusting you are mocking the dying words of a murdered man,” she tweeted.
Gov. Doug Ducey also chimed in.
“Just flat out wrong. Despicable doesn’t go far enough,” Ducey said in a tweet. “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.”
There are also three active petitions on Change.org calling for Phillips’ resignation or removal.
He has deleted his Twitter account.
A COVID-19 Hotspot
Phillips is seeking re-election to Scottsdale City Council this fall. He organized the protest Wednesday, saying mask mandates place “undue hardship” on local businesses.
Ducey announced in a briefing Thursday that the state Department of Liquor has sent final notices to comply to eight clubs in Old Town Scottsdale, with one receiving a misdemeanor charge for not enforcing safety guidelines related to COVID-19.
Photos of packed clubs in the area, with patrons not practicing social distancing or wearing masks, have made national news multiple times since Ducey allowed the state’s stay-at-home order to expire May 15.
The governor said gathering places like these not enforcing the rules are one of the key reasons Arizona has experienced a resurgence of the virus in recent weeks, setting a daily record Tuesday with over 3,500 new cases.
Not First Controversy
Wednesday’s mask mandate protest wasn’t the first time Phillips has stepped into controversy.
The councilman was rebuked in March when he shared a false Facebook post about COVID-19.
“Hate to break this to all of the morons who call themselves Journalists. COVID literally stands for ‘Chinese Originated Viral Infectious Disease’ and the number 19 is due to this being the 19th virus to come out of China,” the post stated.
But in reality, “COVID” is a mashup abbreviation of “corona,” “virus,” and “disease,” while 19 refers to 2019, the year the virus was discovered.
Phillips called the post a “stupid comment” and deleted it after people called it out for being incorrect. His apology was, “Sorry to anyone offended.”
Phillips and other Republicans have insisted on naming China when referring to the disease.
Despite World Health Organization guidance not to include places of origination in disease names, President Donald Trump has used terms like “the China virus,” “the Wuhan virus,” and “the Kung Flu” in tweets and speeches.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.