Darnella Frazier, a teenager who filmed George Floyd’s murder in a live-streamed video that quickly spread worldwide, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize on Friday.
Many argue that without the clear video evidence of what happened on that day in 25 May, 2020, the nationwide protests that followed Mr Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police would’ve never occurred. It was months before officials released the full police body camera footage of what happened.
The prize committee said in a statement it decided to pay tribute to Ms Frazier, who was 17 when she captured the now-infamous video, 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.”
Video of the incident captured the brutality and callousness of Mr Floyd’s murder up close. The unarmed man told officers he couldn’t breathe 27 times before passing out then dying underneath their knees, as a nearby policeman joked that, “This is why you don’t do drugs, kids.”
And the video showed in stark terms how incomplete and often fully misleading early police reports to the public tend to be in the deaths of Black men.
In the original police bulletin that went out to the public, here’s how the Minneapolis police department categorised the gruesome murder millions of people would later see on Ms Frazier’s social media video:
“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.”
This is far from the picture of the incident that witnesses and the trial would describe, where officers ignored their training and performed a dangerous maneuver on an unarmed man in the middle of an anxious episode.
During the closely watched murder trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who knelt most directly on Mr Floyd’s neck, Ms Frazier testified about the lasting impact filming the killing had on her.
“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,” Ms. Frazier said. “But it’s like, it’s not what I should have done, it’s what he should have done,” a reference to Mr Chauvin.
She added that watching the event unfold, she couldn’t help but think about the Black men in her own family.
“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’re all Black,” Ms. Frazier said in her testimony. “I have a Black father. I have a Black brother. I have Black friends.”
Mr Frazier, then a senior at Roosevelt High School in Minneapolis, and her nine-year-old cousin happened upon Mr Floyd and Chauvin on her way to a local grocery store.
Since then, she has written she doesn’t consider herself a hero and remains deeply traumatised after witnessing what she saw, including having panic attacks when she sees police cars.
“A lot of people call me a hero even though I don’t see myself as one,” Ms Frazier wrote on social media, speaking on the one-year anniversary of Mr Floyd’s death. “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.”
Last year, the literary and human rights organisation PEN America honoured her as well, and acclaimed director Spike Lee, whose work often focuses on race in America, presented her with an award.
Ms Frazier, who was born and raised in Minneapolis’ neigbouring St Paul, Minnesota, is now 18. She has largely stayed out of the spotlight after shooting her historical video, and is reportedly looking forward to attending college.
According to Ms Frazier’s attorney, Seth Cobin, George Floyd was not the first person the young woman saw police mistreat as she was growing up.
“There’s a lot of violence directed at her community. She wanted to document this,” he told CBS last summer. “She knew that without this record, these officers would escape consequences altogether. The world would never know what had happened that day.”