Guest Editorial: Calling Out ‘I Can’t Breathe’ Comments at COVID Mask Rally

By Recker McDowell —

There were plenty of questions regarding Scottsdale Mayor Jim Lane’s and the city’s response to the looting and property destruction at Scottsdale Fashion Square.

But Lane was spot on today with his quick response to Scottsdale City Councilman Guy Phillips’ use of the phrase ‘I Can’t Breathe’ during today’s rally against COVID-19 mask mandates.

‘I Can’t Breathe’ is what George Floyd told Minneapolis Police before he died with an officer’s knee on his neck for more than 8 minutes. ‘I Can’t Breathe’ was also uttered by Eric Garner who died in 2014 while being pinned down by New York City Police.

Lane was correct and had perfect timing this afternoon in calling out Phillips for using the same phrase when talking about mask mandates.

“Councilman Phillips’ comments at his anti-mask protest rally today at City Hall do not represent the values of our Scottsdale community,” Lane said via Facebook. “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.

There is a legitimate debate on state, federal and local responses to COVID-19. There is a debate to be had over how those responses balance public health and protecting our most vulnerable neighbors from COVID with jobs, the economy and civil liberties.

But we also need to know the moment. The pains of racism and feelings of mistreatment and hopelessness are manifested in the killing of George Floyd. They manifested in huge protests and unrest across the country.

Phillips was misguided and wrong to mix the two issues and Lane is right to call those comments out and call them out quickly.