Guy Phillips answered the question everyone in Scottsdale has been wondering: Will he resign? The answer is, unequivocally, no.
Mr. Phillips also isn’t suspending his campaign for re-election in the Aug. 4 primary election, he says, stating that if the voters want him out they can make that decision themselves.
Flanked by his wife, Cora, the councilman stood in front of Scottsdale City Hall June 30 to explain and defend his actions during a June 24 rally --- which also took place at City Hall, 3939 N. Drinkwater Blvd. --- where he said “I can’t breathe” to protest wearing a face mask.
While defending his comments, Mr. Phillips asked for forgiveness of his insensitivity, stating he blurted out the phrase while caught-up-in-the-moment of his rally and it wasn’t until the media storm following the event that he realized the weight of his actions.
Members of Scottsdale City Council, the local Chamber of Commerce, Experience Scottsdale and the NAACP have issued official statements in response to City Councilman Guy Phillips saying “I can’t breathe,” which is becoming a rallying cry for those protesting police brutality, during an anti-mask rally last Wednesday.
A well-known phrase attributed first to Eric Garner, and most recently George Floyd, who died in police custody after an officer knelt on his neck, “I can’t breathe” has ignited national protests in all 50 states fighting for the Black Lives Matter movement since May.
Mr. Phillips uttered the phrase twice prior to removing his face mask in front of Scottsdale City Hall on June 24 during a rally he organized protesting the city’s face mask mandate to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Since then, community members, including Mayor Jim Lane, have called for Mr. Phillips’ resignation.
During his press conference today, Mr. Phillips read a prepared statement prior to answering media questions, when he said last week’s rally was the first event of that kind he’s hosted, and he got swept up in the event and his “adrenaline took over.”
Mr. Phillips says he said the phrase, “I can’t breathe” because he, and others he’s talked to, say they literally can’t breathe with the masks on, and he was opposed to the government mandating the masks.
“The purpose of the rally was to let the mayor know that we, as responsible citizens, do not need to be subjected to a unilateral proclamation making it a criminal offense not to wear a mask,” Mr. Phillips said, noting that the charge is a class 1 misdemeanor.
“In mingling and speaking with many before the rally started, several people told me about their experience with masks, and how they couldn’t breathe. One said wearing a mask makes it hard to breathe; others told me that with a mask on ‘I can’t breathe.’”
Mr. Phillips says while waiting for his turn to speak at the rally, he thought about what those people said.
“When it was my turn to speak adrenaline took over and I blurted out twice ‘I can’t breathe.’ It wasn’t until a couple hours later when I was informed that a reporter used that phrase to call me a racist that I realized the gravity of that comment,” Mr. Phillips said. “I knew then I had unwittingly created a controversy that I couldn’t erase. I take full responsibility for that mistake, and as for those who were offended or hurt by my words, forgive my insensitivity.”
Mr. Phillips says with the divisiveness of the country today, he believes too many people rush immediately to judgment, and pointed to the words of Dr. Martin Luther King as his inspiration.
“I grew up in a time of Dr. Martin Luther King and I always believed his words to judge a person by his character, and I try to live up to that powerful statement,” Mr. Phillips said. “My friends, family and supporters over the years know who I am, the content of my character and my dedication to serving the public, and the cause of freedom and liberty for all.”
Mr. Phillips said his door is “always open” and he looks forward to “more conversations with the black community and how to further their cause for freedom and liberty” through peaceful conversation and actions.
Ultimately, Mr. Phillips says he will not resign from public office.
“I was elected twice by the voters of Scottsdale and will most likely be re-elected again,” he said. “I’ve never broken faith with my voters, and unlike some of my colleagues, I will not sell out the public for campaign contributions just to stay in office, nor would I throw them to the lions for political expediency like Mayor Lane and mayoral candidate Suzanne Klapp has done to me. If the voters want me to go, the primary election starts in eight days. I will not given in to bullying or crowd madness --- if I do, who will be next?”
In a follow-up question afterwards, Mr. Phillips says since Scottsdale has been featured on national news programs for his comments, he hasn’t met with his council colleagues or Mr. Lane.
“I’ve been able to work with the council in the past,” Mr. Phillips said of many of his fellow councilmembers asking for him to apologize and resign.
“I would hope that they would understand the meaning of what I said and the reasons why I said it, and hopefully we can get together in the future and work towards the betterment of Scottsdale.”
One of the few public observers at the press conference, a woman named Angela Simmons, defended Mr. Phillips.
“I don’t understand,” she said of the political push back Mr. Phillips is going through. “I do know that he is, he is a very respectful person. Where I work, there are a number of people who pass me by without acknowledging my existence whatsoever. Mr. Phillips, every time, comes in and is always very respectful to me.”
Ms. Simmons says she personally would tell Mr. Phillips how hard it was to breathe with the face mask on, and what happened last week has nothing to do with George Floyd.
“I can not stand and sit and just allow people to say such ugly things about a person. People are taking things completely out of context. I understand what’s going on in our community as a black person,” Ms. Simmons said. “We all know how many ugly things happen, that are just now being made public. We have a lot of other things that’s more concerning than a person saying ‘hey, I can’t breathe.’”
Ms. Simmons pointed to the larger issues in society, provoking the question of how many racist things are said and done in private.
“As a black person I do not take what he said offensively. I do not believe that he meant that in an offensive manner, because he’s been saying this before the whole horrible incident that we all witnessed,” she said. “But people want to say, ‘oh he said such a bad thing’ and he said that publicly. What are people saying that is not public that is more harmful to us that we don’t hear? That’s not being filmed? That’s said in your house amongst your children?”