While George Floyd could not be saved from the violence of Derek Chauvin, there are heroes who worked to ensure that his death would not go unnoticed. One of those brave citizens is Minneapolis, Minn., teenager Darnella Frazier. As the world continues to become acquainted with the young Frazier, who is now 18 years old, she is continuing to make history as a recipient of a 2021 Pulitzer Prize in the “Special Citations and Awards” category for her recording of Chauvin, a white, former Minneapolis, Minn., cop who murdered George Floyd, a Black man, on May 25, 2020 outside a convenience store.
An announcement regarding the recipients of the Pulitzers, one of the most sought-after awards honoring journalists and reporters, was made on June 11. Now in its 105th year, the Pulitzer Prize is named for publisher Joseph Pulitzer, an immigrant who arrived to the United States in the mid-19th century, eventually becoming a successful newspaper publisher and owner of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and The New York World. During Pulitzer’s career, his publications became known for uncovering corruption in the public and private sectors. The Pulitzer board noted in a statement that Frazier’s recording of the 2020 murder was integral to holding accountable the members of law enforcement who played roles in Floyd’s death.
“For courageously recording 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,” wrote the board in a statement.
While Frazier was lauded by many for her courage when she began recording police mistreating Floyd, during her trip escorting a young cousin to Cup Foods, the convenience store in front of which the murder occurred, she has said that there is guilt stemming from not stepping in physically to attempt halting the assault despite the risk that her safety could could have been jeopardized. The varsity high-school athlete channeled these feelings into a commitment to justice that didn’t end once the video was recorded, and it was this invaluable evidence that was most helpful to holding Chauvin and his colleagues accountable.
Frazier’s video afforded details that were graphic, yet it was necessary for the world to see the brutal methods employed by Chauvin and his cruelty, which caused Floyd's death. While the video showed the assault on Floyd, his pleas for his life, and final breaths, Frazier recognized that there was a great deal of difficulty ensuring the footage would become readily available to the public and shown in full.
“I still can’t get over how quick the news tried to cover up George Floyd’s death,” Frazier wrote in a March 11 Instagram post. “Just makes me think what else got covered up if it was no evidence to see what really happened. This world we live in is sick and things need to change! 💯 If you think Derek Chauvin was ‘just doing his job’ YOU’RE APART [sic] OF THE PROBLEM. George Floyd was already cuffed on the ground, a knee to the neck when you’re already restrained is unnecessary. Despite this man’s past, nobody deserves to die because they have a past. That man was begging for his life and Chauvin did not care. He deserves to go down. Anyone who thinks differently, you’re apart [sic] of the problem #justiceforGeorgeFloyd. 🖤”
Ensuring the video’s public release through social media was only the beginning of Frazier’s role in the case. Frazier committed to seeing justice performed and testified on March 30 during the murder trial of Chauvin, who, on April 20, was found guilty of second-degree unintentional murder, second-degree manslaughter, and third-degree murder—every count for which he was charged.
“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 a Black brother. I have Black friends. I look at that and I look at how that could have been one of them,” Frazier said during her testimony. “It’s been nights I stayed up apologizing and apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more and not physically interacting and not saving his life. It’s like, it’s not what I should have done, it’s what he [Chauvin] should have done.”
The Pulitzer award is not the only recognition Frazier received for her brave work, as she was chosen to receive the 2020 PEN/Benenson Courage Award. PEN America is a charitable organization founded in 1922, which supports freedom of journalistic expression and human rights around the globe. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 PEN America Gala award ceremony was held virtually on Dec. 8.
“With nothing more than a cell phone and sheer guts, Darnella changed the course of history in this country, sparking a bold movement demanding an end to systemic anti-Black racism and violence at the hands of police,” said PEN America Chief Executive Officer Suzanne Nossel. “With remarkable steadiness, Darnella carried out the expressive act of bearing witness, and allowing hundreds of millions around the world to see what she saw. Without Darnella’s presence of mind and readiness to risk her own safety and wellbeing, we may never have known the truth about George Floyd’s murder. We are proud to recognize her exceptional courage with this award.”
In addition to thanks from the ceremony’s host Franklin Leonard, a number of recognizable figures, including Gabrielle Union, Meryl Streep, Mona Hanna-Attisha, DeRay McKesson, Molly Crabapple, Rita Dove, Anita Hill, and Cory Booker, contributed to a video montage expressing gratitude to Frazier. Presenting the award to Frazier was Academy Award-winning filmmaker Spike Lee, who emphasized the recognition she was receiving was for her courage.
“It is my honor and my pleasure to present the PEN/Benenson Courage Award to Sister Darnella Frazier. I’m so proud of my sister,” Lee said. “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 this award. Important word, you’re getting the PEN/Benenson Courage Award. The word is courage!”