More Honors for Darnella Frazier

As is now widely known, on May 25, 2020, Darnella Frazier, a 17-year-old high school student happened to be at the  Minneapolis corner of 38th  and Chicago Avenue and observed Minneapolis policemen restrain a Black man on the street pavement by a police car. She had the presence of mind and courage to get out her cell phone and make a video recording of what turned out to be the last minutes of George Floyd’s life.[1]

For these actions in 2020 she received the PEN/Benenson Courage Award from PEN America. [2]

On May 25, 2021, the first anniversary of the death of Mr. Floyd, she penned a beautiful tribute to him on FACEBOOK that subsequently was movingly read on MSNBC by Caroline Randall Williams, an award-winning poet, young adult novelist, cookbook author and the Writer-in-Residence of Medicine, Health and Society at Vanderbilt University.[3]

On June 11, 2021, she received another award for her judgment and courage. This was a special Pulitzer Prize that recognized her for “courageously reporting the murder of George Floyd, a video that spurred protests against police brutality, around the world, highlighting the crucial role of citizens in journalists’ quest for truth and justice.”  In announcing this award, Mindy Marques Gonzalez, the co-chair of the Pulitzer Board, said this video was “transformative” and “jolted viewers and spurred protests against police brutality around the world.” [4]

This Pulitzer award was applauded by Roy Peter Clark, a senior scholar at the Poynter Institute and a five-time Pulitzer winner himself. He said, “”There she was, at 17, sort of witnessing an injustice and she stood there in the face of threats and captured that video. It would be hard to select, even from the work of professional journalists over recent years or decades, a 10-minute video that had as profound an impact as this young woman’s video did.”

On June 24, 2021, Ms.Frazier will receive the Human Rights Defender Award from the Minneapolis-based Advocates for Human Rights. The initial announcement of this award stated she “bravely documented the murder of George Floyd. Her quick thinking sparked a worldwide reckoning with systemic racism and police violence.”[5]

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[1] Witnessing, dwkcommentaries.com (April 26, 2021).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Darnella Frazier’s Continued Witnessing, dwkcommentaries.com (May 26, 2021).

[4] Columbia University, 2021 Pulitzer Prize Winners (June 11, 2021); Forliti (AP),Teen who recorded Floyd’s arrest, death, wins Pulitzer nod, Wash. Post (June 11, 2021); Hill (AP), Pulitzers honor coronavirus pandemic, US protest coverage, Wash. Post (June 11, 2021); Izadi, Darnella Frazier, the teen who filmed George Floyd’s murder, awarded a citation, Wash. Post (June 11, 2021).

[5] Advocates for Human Rights, 2021 Virtual Human Rights Awards Dinner.

Darnella Frazier’s Continued Witnessing    

Darnella Frazier was the 17-year-old woman who had the wisdom and courage to use her smart phone to record the last 9:29 minutes of George Floyd’s life on May 25, 2020. That video was a key piece of evidence in the trial and conviction of Derek Chauvin this April for second and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter of Mr. Floyd. [1]

On the first anniversary of that horrible murder, Ms. Frazier continued her witnessing by making the following post on FACEBOOK:

Frazier’s Anniversary Statement [2]

“A year ago, today I witnessed a murder. The victim’s name was George Floyd. Although this wasn’t the first time, I’ve seen a black man get killed at the hands of the police, this is the first time I witnessed it happen in front of me. Right in front of my eyes, a few feet away. I didn’t know this man from a can of paint, but I knew his life mattered. I knew that he was in pain. I knew that he was another black man in danger with no power.’

“I was only 17 at the time, just a normal day for me walking my 9-year-old cousin to the corner store, not even prepared for what I was about to see, not even knowing my life was going to change on this exact day in those exact moments… it did. It changed me.”

“It changed how I viewed life. It made me realize how dangerous it is to be Black in America. We shouldn’t have to walk on eggshells around police officers, the same people that are supposed to protect and serve. We are looked at as thugs, animals, and criminals, all because of the color of our skin.”

“Why are Black people the only ones viewed this way when every race has some type of wrongdoing? None of us are to judge. We are all human.”

“I am 18 now and I still hold the weight and trauma of what I witnessed a year ago. It’s a little easier now, but I’m not who I used to be. A part of my childhood was taken from me. My 9-year-old cousin who witnessed the same thing I did got a part of her childhood taken from her. Having to up and leave because my home was no longer safe, waking up to reporters at my door, closing my eyes at night only to see a man who is brown like me, lifeless on the ground. I couldn’t sleep properly for weeks. I used to shake so bad at night my mom had to rock me to sleep. Hopping from hotel to hotel because we didn’t have a home and looking over our back every day in the process. Having panic and anxiety attacks every time I see a police car, not knowing who to trust because a lot of people are evil with bad intentions. I hold that weight.”

“A lot of people call me a hero even though I don’t see myself as one. I was just in the right place at the right time. Behind this smile, behind these awards, behind the publicity, I’m a girl trying to heal from something I am reminded of every day. Everyone talks about the girl who recorded George Floyd‘s death, but to actually be her is a different story.”

“Not only did this affect me, my family too. We all experienced change. My mom the most. I strive every day to be strong for her because she was strong for me when I couldn’t be strong for myself.”

“ Even though this was a traumatic life-changing experience for me, I’m proud of myself. If it weren’t for my video, the world wouldn’t have known the truth. I own that. My video didn’t save George Floyd, but it put his murderer away and off the streets. You can view George Floyd anyway you choose to view him, despite his past, because don’t we all have one? He was a loved one, someone’s son, someone’s father, someone’s brother, and someone’s friend.”

“We the people won’t take the blame, you won’t keep pointing fingers at us as if it’s our fault, as if we are criminals.”

“ I don’t think people understand how serious death is…that person is never coming back. These officers shouldn’t get to decide if someone gets to live or not. It’s time these officers start getting held accountable. Murdering people and abusing your power while doing it is not doing your job. It shouldn’t have to take people to actually go through something to understand it’s not ok. It’s called having a heart and understanding right from wrong.”

“George Floyd, I can’t express enough how I wish things could have went different, but I want you to know you will always be in my heart. I’ll always remember this day because of you. May your soul rest in peace. May you rest in the most beautiful roses. “

Conclusion [3]

Later that same day, Frazier’s anniversary essay was beautifully read on MSNBC by Caroline Randall Williams, an award-winning poet, young adult novelist and cookbook author. She is the Writer-in-Residence of Medicine, Health and Society at Vanderbilt University and the great granddaughter of Anna Bontemps, the African-American poet, novelist and noted member of the Harlem Renaissance, and the granddaughter of Avon Willima, a Nashville attorney and key leader of that city’s civil rights movement. Another ancestor is her great-great-grandfather: Edmund Pettus, U.S. Senator from Alabama, senior officer of the Confederate States Army and grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, for whom the infamous Edmund Pettus Bridge in Alabama is named. Williams  has said that“the black people I come from were owned and raped by the white people I come from.”

As Michelle Norris, a Washington Post columnist, Minnesota native and graduate of the University of Minnesota, stated, Frazier “was the witness George Floyd needed on May 25, 2020. She was the witness we all needed—the public, the police, a country still grappling with racial codes that are stitched into the fabric of our governing institutions. She is the hero of this story.”

Moreover, said Norris, Frazier’s “bravery is a reminder that we too must not look away, and not just in the most wicked moments of bias but also in the small things that grease the runway toward larger prejudice. We must not look away when we see the softer kind of oppression that masks itself in offhand comments, and jokes, and the denigration and dismissal of ‘those people.’

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[1] Witnessing, dwkcommentaries.com (April 25, 2021); Derek Chauvin Trial: Week Seven (CONVICTION), dwkcommentaries.com (April 21, 2021).

[2] Frazier, 1 year anniversary, FACEBOOK (May 25, 2021); Del Rio, Darnella Frazier, the teenager who recorded George Floyd’s murder, speaks out, N.Y. Times (May 25, 2021); Knowles, Teen speaks out a year after filming George Floyd’s death, saying her video’’put his murderer away,’ Wash. Post (May 25, 2021).

[3] Caroline Randall Williams reads Darnella Frazier’s statement on the anniversary of George Floyd ‘s murder, MSNBC (May 25, 2021); Caroline Randall Williams;

Caroline Randall Williams, Wikipedia.

 

 

Witnessing

Witnessing is an important human activity and responsibility.

Sometimes witnessing is a planned activity, like attending or watching and listening to a concert, play, movie, sporting event or a church worship service and then reporting (orally or in writing) what happened to others. Witnessing sometimes, however, is not planned beforehand when you observe something happening in your presence and subsequently tell others what you had observed.

Witnessing by Darnella Frazier [1]

An important example of the latter type of witnessing was provided by Darnella Frazier, a 17-year-old high school student, in Minneapolis at the corner of Chicago Avenue and 38th Street on May 25, 2020.

By happenstance she and her nine-year-old cousin walked from their home to the nearby Cup Foods store on that corner to buy some snacks. When they arrived at the store they noticed in the street a Minneapolis police car where a black man (George Floyd) was pinned in pain on the pavement by three Minneapolis policemen. Frazier immediately got out her cell phone and started a video recording of this event and then held her camera steady for over the next ten minutes until the Black man apparently died. She then  posted this video recording on her FACEBOOK page, which immediately was seen by many people around the world.

The next day in an interview by the StarTribune Frazier said she started the video recording ”as soon as I heard  . .  [the Black man] trying to fight for his life. It was like a natural instinct, honestly. The world needed to see what I was seeing. Stuff like this happens in silence too many times.” She hoped that the video can in some way bring about “peace and equality. We are tired of [police] killing us.” It was obvious to her that the officer had “seen how weak [Floyd] was, and he still proceeded. . . . My video proves what really happened.”

Frazier amplified her remarks in March 2021 FACEBOOK postings. “George Floyd was already cuffed on the ground, a knee to the neck when [the] restraint already is absolutely unnecessary. The man was begging for his life and Chauvin did not care. He deserves to go down.” Moreover, I can’t go to sleep in silence, my mind will eat me alive.” Frazier also criticized the falsity of the Minneapolis Police Department’s initial public report of this incident that stated the following:

  • “On Monday evening, shortly after 8:00 pm, officers from the Minneapolis Police Department responded to the 3700 block of Chicago Avenue South on a report of a forgery in progress.  Officers were advised that the suspect was sitting on top of a blue car and appeared to be under the influence.”
  • “Two officers arrived and located the suspect, a male believed to be in his 40s, in his car.  He was ordered to step from his car.  After he got out, he physically resisted officers.”
  • Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress.”
  • “Officers called for an ambulance.  He was transported to Hennepin County Medical Center by ambulance where he died a short time later.”
  • “At no time were weapons of any type used by anyone involved in this incident.”
  • “The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension has been called in to investigate this incident at the request of the Minneapolis Police Department.”
  • “No officers were injured in the incident.”
  • “Body worn cameras were on and activated during this incident.”

At Chauvin’s recently concluded criminal trial, Frazier was the fourth witness called by the prosecution and provided moving and emotional testimony about what she observed and did that day. “When I look at George Floyd I look at my dad, I look at my brothers, I look at my cousins, my uncles, because they are all Black. I have a Black father, I have Black brothers, I have Black friends. I look at that and how it could have been one of them. It’s been nights I’ve stayed up apologizing and apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more and not physically interacting and not saving his life. It’s not what I should have done. It’s what he [Chauvin] should have done.” She also testified that Chauvin had a “cold look—heartless. It didn’t seem like he cared.”

In cross examination, defense counsel Erik Nelson was trying to fabricate a scene with bystanders becoming increasingly hostile to the point of creating a potential threat to the officers. Frazier agreed that bystanders were getting louder and angrier, but she added that she didn’t think anyone was ever threatening Chauvin.

After the jury on April 20th rendered its verdict that Chauvin was guilty on all three counts, Frazier said on FACEBOOK, “I just cried so hard. This last hour my heart was beating so fast, I was so anxious, anxiety [busting] through the roof. But to know GUILTY ON ALL 3 CHARGES !!! THANK YOU GOD THANK YOU … George Floyd we did it!! Justice has been served.”

Courage Award for Darnella Frazier [2]

Praise for Frazier’s actions at the scene of the Floyd killing actually started in October 2020, when PEN America, which works to defend and celebrate free expression in the United States and worldwide through the advancement of literature and human rights, announced that it was granting its annual Benenson Courage Award to Frazier. The announcement stated the following:

  • “In May 2020, Frazier documented the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, one of whom—Derek Chauvin—pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck, well after Floyd lost consciousness. Frazier’s video quickly spread across social media and led to a wave of community outrage, a major investigation, and Chauvin’s arrest, as well as the dismissal of [him and] the three other officers. Floyd’s killing, along with the deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, Dion Johnson, and others, drove a wave of activism across the country crying out for racial and economic justice.”

This award was presented at a virtual ceremony on December 8, 2020, by Spike Lee, the famous Oscar-winning film director. He said, “I’m so proud of my sister. She documented the murder of George Floyd, our brother, King Floyd. And that footage reverberated around this God’s earth, and people took to the streets all over this earth. Not just the United States of America, and it wasn’t just Black people either. Everybody took to the streets. My sister, I commend you, and you deserve  . . . the PEN/Benenson Courage Award. The [important] word is courage!”

Ms. Frazier accepted the Award with these comments: “ I would like to say thank you for honoring me with this PEN/Benenson Courage Award. I never would imagine out of my whole 17 years of living that this will be me. It’s just a lot to take in, but I couldn’t say thank you enough for everything that’s been coming towards me. Thanks to Mr. Lee for presenting this, and I appreciate that. Thank you for the PEN/Benenson Courage Award.”

Then followed thank you’s for her courage from attendees, including Meryl Streep, Anita Hill and U.S. Senator Cory Booker.

Other Praises for Frazier [3]

Many others have praised Frazier for her courage and quick-thinking on May 25th.

Her recording this video was praised at a June 11, 2020, press conference by Minneapolis Police chief Medaria Arradondo, “I am thankful, absolutely, that this [police encounter] was captured in the manner it was. [In similar situations, he encouraged others,]“Record, Record, absolutely. Record, call . . . a friend. Yell out. Call 911. We need a supervisor on the scene. Absolutely, we need to know that. So the community [should[ play a vital role and did two weeks ago.”

Chauvin’s conviction brought immediate praise for Frazier. Minnesota Governor Tim Walz said, Frazier’s taking “that video, I think many folks know, is maybe the only reason that Derek Chauvin will go to prison.” The NAACP in North Carolina, the state where Floyd was born. stated “The video shot by a high school student will go down in history. Not even many of Chauvin’s police colleagues, could argue against Ms. Frazier’s film.” Oprah Winfrey tweeted, “I’m grateful to the witnesses and their testimonies. Grateful to Darnella Frazier. Grateful to every juror for seeing and acknowledging what the world saw on that tape. Thank you God for real!”

Michelle Norris, a Washington Post columnist and a Minnesota native and graduate of the University of Minnesota, states Frazier “was the witness George Floyd needed on May 25, 2020. She was the witness we all needed—the public, the police, a country still grappling with racial codes that are stitched into the fabric of our governing institutions. She is the hero of this story.”

Norris continued, “Her bravery is a reminder that we too must not look away, and not just in the most wicked moments of bias but also in the small things that grease the runway toward larger prejudice. We must not look away when we see the softer kind of oppression that masks itself in offhand comments, and jokes, and the denigration and dismissal of ‘those people.’”

“And when I say ‘we,’ I am also talking about our public servants and especially our law enforcement officers who know too well that there are those in their ranks who ‘police’ from a dark and dangerous perspective. They know that some officers are guided by prejudice and proceed from warped beliefs. Those officers debase the entire profession.”

Conclusion

 Seven other bystanders to the killing of George Floyd testified in the Chauvin trial, including Judeah Reynolds, who is Frazier’s nine-year-old cousin. As Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell said in his closing argument, all of these bystander witnesses “were a bouquet  of humanity.”[4]

All of the bystanders testimony was  applauded by two prominent journalists. For Frank Bruni, the New York times columnist, these witnesses are “tormented by their memories of Floyd’s last minutes” and Floyd’s and their sense of “helplessness” of not being able to stop what was being done to Floyd. The Chicago Tribune’s columnist, Heidi Stevens, called these bystanders “stone catchers” or people who stand up and intervene when someone’s been wrongly accused and condemned. (This phrase is based upon Jesus rebuking men who were ready to stone to death a woman caught in adultery by asking them who is without sin to cast the first stone, which prompted all the men to drop their stones and walk away and upon Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative coining  the phrase “stone catchers.” [4]

This reference to the Bible should remind those of religious faith of our calling to be witnesses and give testimony. This is not easy. You have to give your account of what happened and your belief as to what it means. The person has to stand and say what he or she believes about God.

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[1] Walsh, For first time, Minneapolis teen opens up about her viral George Floyd arrest video, StarTribune (Mar. 12, 2021); Minneapolis Police Department, Man Dies After Medical Incident During Police Interaction (May 25, 2020); Paybarah, How a teenager’s video upended the police department’s initial tale, N.Y. Times (April 20, 2021); Bogel-Burroughs & Arango, Darnella Frazier, the teenager who filmed George Floyd’s arrest, testifies at the trial, N.Y. Times (Mar. 30, 2021);  Assoc. Press, [Video] ‘He Was Suffering’: Teenager Who Filmed Floyd’s Arrest Testifies at Trial, N.Y. Times (Mar. 30, 2021); Watch the replays” Day 2 testimony of witnesses Donald Williams and Darnella Frazier, StarTribune (Mar. 30, 2021); Xiong, Walsh & Olson, Teen who recorded George Floyd’s death reveals trauma, pain in testimony, StarTribune (Mar. 31, 2021); Jackson, Derek Chauvin trial shows people who film police violence later struggle with trauma, StarTribune (April 2, 2021); Derek Chauvin Trial: Week Four, dwkcommentaries.com (April 4, 2021); Knowles & Belia, Darnella Frazier, teen who filmed Floyd’s arrest, celebrates Chauvin’s guilty verdict: ‘Justice has been served,’ Wash. Post (April 21, 2021); Yan, A teen with ‘a cell phone and sheer guts’ is credited for Derek Chauvin’s murder conviction, cnn.comm (April 21, 2021); Fowler, You have the right to film police. Here’s how to do it effectively—and safely, Wash. Post (April 22, 2021).

[2] See note 1 supra. See also Walsh, Minneapolis teen ‘humbled’ to receive national Courage Award for filming George Floyd’s killing by police, StarTribune (Oct. 29, 2020); PEN America, Darnella Frazier, Dec. 8, 2020); Walsh, Minneapolis teen receives prestigious award for recording George Floyd video, StarTribune (Dec. 10, 2020).

[3] Norris, Opinion: Darnella Frazier is the hero of this story, Wash. Post (April 21, 2021). This blog has frequently commented about Bryan Stevenson’s amazing legal representation of death-row inmates and others. See also Sullivan, By bearing witness—and hitting ‘record’—17-year-old Darnella Frazier may have changed the world, Wash. Post (April 20, 2021.).

[4] The other bystander witnesses were Alyssa Funaru (17 years old), Kaylynn Gilbert (17 years old), Genevieve Hansen, Donald Williams II, Christopher Belfrey and Charles McMillian. (Derek Chauvin Trial: Week Four, dwkcommentaries.com (April 4, 2021). Bruni, Listening to Those Who Saw George Floyd Die, N.Y. Times (April 24, 2021); Stevens, ‘The world needed to see what I was seeing,’ StarTribune (April 23, 2021)..