Darnella Frazier, the teen who recorded the murder of George Floyd last summer, has earned a special citation from the Pulitzer Prize board. If not for Frazier’s actions, one of the only official records we would have had of Floyd’s death was the press release Minneapolis Police published on May 25th, 2020. The nearly 200-word document doesn’t mention the fact former police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds. She later testified at Chauvin’s trial, with her video proving instrumental in his conviction.
On Friday, the Pulitzer Prize board said it decided to recognize Frazier 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.” Frazier, who was 17 when she filmed the clip, was walking to a local store with her cousin when she saw the scene between Floyd and Minneapolis Police unfold. She captured Floyd’s last moments, including his repeated pleas of “I can’t breathe.”
This isn’t Frazier’s first award for her actions. Last year, she earned recognition from PEN America. “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,” Frazier wrote in a Facebook post marking the one-year anniversary of Floyd’s death. “Behind this smile, behind these awards, behind the publicity, I’m a girl trying to heal from something I am reminded of every day.”
According to the Pulitzer Prize office, some amateur photographers have won in the past, and other winning journalism entries may have included footage that the individual shot on their phone. Still, Frazier’s award says a lot about how phones have enabled citizen journalism in recent years. After all, it was Ramsey Orta and his video of Eric Garner’s death that made “I can’t breathe” into a rallying cry against police violence aimed at communities of color.
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