Darnella Frazier was just 17 and on her way to the shop when she stumbled across a tragedy: the murder of George Floyd
Claudia Williams: Hi, I’m Claudia – and this is Sensemaker, from tortoisemedia.com.
One story every day to make sense of the world.
Today: The girl whose video sparked international protests over police brutality.
On the 25 May – the day after we’re releasing this episode – it will be a year since George Floyd was murdered by policeman Derek Chauvin outside a Minneapolis grocery store.
You’ve probably seen the video of some of George Floyd’s last moments.
Graphic and upsetting, it set off waves of protest all around the world.
But there was also someone on the other side of the camera.
A 17-year-old girl, Darnella Frazier.
She was on the way to buy some snacks with her 9-year-old cousin when she stumbled upon the arrest.
She did what so many people are now trained to do in moments like this: she started filming.
She uploaded the video to Facebook, and, well, the rest is history.
So a year on from George Floyd’s death: what’s been the impact on Darnella Frazier?
The video Darnella Frazier filmed is 10 minutes long.
Derek Chauvin’s knee is pressed into George Floyd’s neck for most of that time. You can hear witnesses shouting that George Floyd isn’t responsive.
“He’s not responsive right now, look at him, he’s not responsive right now.”Darnella Frazier’s video, May 25th 2020
George Floyd’s cries that he couldn’t breathe quickly became the rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter protests which swept the world last year.
“Protestors shouting: I can’t breathe.”VICE News
And although Darnella Frazier’s video isn’t the only footage showing what happened that day… it is the most significant.
Over the past year her video, and the images taken from it, have been used again and again by the media.
The Wikipedia page for George Floyd’s death has a still taken from her video right at the top.
And it also became an essential part of protestors’ call for police accountability.
Because it told a very different story to the official Minneapolis police report on what happened to George Floyd.
The video struck a chord with Americans – and with the world.
But what happened next for Darnella Frazier?
The day after the video was filmed Darnella Frazier returned to the scene, where a memorial and protest had quickly sprung up.
“I posted the video last night and it went viral. Everyone is asking me how I feel… I don’t know how to feel… Cause it’s so sad. This man was literally right here at 8pm yesterday. I was walking my cousin to the store. And I just see him on the ground. I pull my camera out. This man cannot f***ing breathe at all.”Darnella Frazier, Now This
She had witnessed and filmed something emotionally traumatic – and her lawyer, Sean Cobin, has since revealed that she has been seeing a therapist.
And as he explains, she was putting herself at risk too…
“I think she was utterly terrified. She knew that here she was a 17 year old black woman. She was as vulnerable as anybody. Any minute she could become a victim as well.”Seth Cobin, CBS This Morning
Because Darnella Frazier was also flung into the public eye on a global scale.
Not everyone thought she had done the right thing by filming George Floyd’s death. She was criticised for not getting involved or somehow preventing what happened – and she was even accused of posting the video for attention. She’s been trolled and harassed online.
And in fact… the people who film police brutality do often face serious consequences.
Feidin Santana, who in 2015 filmed the police shooting of Walter Scott, an unarmed black man, says it changed his life entirely. He faced death threats and racism.
And Ramsey Orta, who filmed the death of his friend Eric Garner in a police chokehold in 2014, has since accused the NYPD of following and targeting him.
That’s a heavy weight for a teenager like Darnella Frazier to bear.
In April of this year, Darnella Frazier’s video – and her emotional testimony – formed a critical part of Derek Chauvin’s trial.
“When I look at George Floyd, I look at, look at my dad, I look at my brothers, look at my cousin’s, my uncles, because they are all black. I have black, I have a black father I have a black brother, I have black friends. And I look at that and how it could have been one of them.”Darnella Frazier
She told the court how she’d lie awake wondering if – and how – she could have intervened:
“It’s been nights I stayed up apologising and apologising to George Floyd for not doing more and not physically interacting and not saving his life. But it’s like, it’s not what I should have done, it’s what he should have done.”Darnella Frazier
But many people, including George Floyd’s family, have praised her for her bravery in documenting what happened to him – and sharing it with the world.
George Floyd’s cousin, Tera Brown, said that without Darnella Frazier, Derek Chauvin would never have been convicted:
“Darnella is one of our heroes for sure. Had it not been for that video and this pandemic where everybody just happened to be in a space where they were available to see it. She is definitely our hero, she was very brave to do what she did. Especially at 17 years old. I am so proud of her bravery and her courage. She is definitely one of our heroes.”Tera Brown, MSNBC
In fact, Darnella Frazier even received a prestigious courage award for her bravery from PEN America, the nonprofit organisation for freedom of expression.
And in recognition of the personal risk that she took, a fund was set up to – and I quote – “support the healing and the restoration of hope” for the teenager. So far it has raised nearly 700 thousand dollars.
Darnella Frazier is now 18 years old and she’s looking forward to going to college.
Last month, on the same Facebook page where she posted her original video, she shared her relief following the guilty verdict for Derek Chauvin… and she expressed her gratitude for the people who have supported her over the past year – saying that their has “carried her a long way”.
A year ago, Darnella Frazier was just a teenager on her way to the shops. She didn’t know what was about to happen – or that it would change her life. But her quick thinking and sense of injustice helped to change the world.
Today’s story was written by Phoebe Davis and produced by Imy Harper.