Americans are heaping praise on the teenager who filmed Derek Chauvin pressing his knee into George Floyd’s neck for almost 10 minutes, suggesting her footage is “the only reason” the former police officer was found guilty of murder yesterday.
Darnella Frazier, who was 17 at the time of Mr Floyd’s death in May of last year, came across the scene outside a Cup Foods store in Minneapolis while walking past with her nine-year-old cousin.
She used her phone to capture video of Chauvin as he held Mr Floyd down for nine minutes and 29 seconds, ignoring the African-American man’s pleas that he couldn’t breathe.
Yesterday, a jury found Chauvin guilty of second degree unintentional murder, third degree murder and second degree manslaughter, having deliberated for about 10 hours.
Chauvin has yet to be sentenced, but faces a lengthy stint in prison.
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Ms Frazier’s footage featured heavily during the trial, and she was also among several witnesses who testified under oath.
When she saw the confrontation between Mr Floyd and the police officers, Ms Frazier told her young cousin to enter the store instead of staying outside with her. Prosecutors asked whether she did so because there was something she didn’t want the girl to see.
“Yes. A man terrified, scared, begging for his life,” Ms Frazier replied.
“It wasn’t right. He was suffering. He was in pain.”
She grew emotional when she was asked to explain how the event had affected her life. Speaking through tears, Ms Frazier said she had stayed up at night multiple times apologising to Mr Floyd for not doing more to intervene.
“When I look at George Floyd I look at my dad. I look at my brother, I look at my cousins, my uncles. Because they are all black,” she said.
“I look at how that could have been one of them.
“It’s the nights I’ve stayed up apologising to George Floyd for not doing more, and not physically interacting, not saving his life.
“But it’s not what I should have done,” she added. “It’s what he (Chauvin) should have done.”
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It was Ms Frazier’s footage that went viral around the world in the days after Mr Floyd’s death, showing what really happened to him and exposing the gaps in an initial account released by the Minneapolis Police Department.
That account, in the form of an innocuous media release, bore the headline “man dies after medical incident during police interaction”.
“On Monday evening, shortly after 8pm, 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,” it said.
“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 Centre by ambulance where he died a short time later.
“At no time were weapons of any type used by anyone involved in this incident.”
It went on to note that the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension had been called in to investigate the incident, but made no mention of the fact that an officer had applied deadly force to pin Mr Floyd on the ground.
Without the video footage, that account may never have been seriously challenged – a point members of the Floyd family and senior public officials have stressed in the last 24 hours.
“Because of smartphones, so many Americans have now seen the racial injustice that black Americans have known for generations, that my parents protested against in the 1960s, that millions of us – Americans of every race – protested against last summer,” Vice President Kamala Harris said as she addressed the American people yesterday.
President Joe Biden listed Ms Frazier’s decision to film the murder as one of several “extraordinary” factors that led to Chauvin’s conviction.
“Such a verdict is much too rare,” Mr Biden said.
“For so many people, it seems like it took a unique and extraordinary convergence of factors: a brave young woman with a smartphone camera; a crowd that was traumatised; a murder that lasted almost 10 minutes in broad daylight for the whole world to see; officers standing up and testifying against a fellow officer instead of closing ranks; a jury who heard the evidence and carried out their civic duty under extraordinary pressure.
“For so many, it feels like it took all of that for the judicial system to deliver just basic accountability.”
Their sentiments were echoed by state leaders, such as Minnesota Governor Tim Walz.
“Taking that video is maybe the only reason Derek Chauvin will go to prison,” he said.
Speaking to CNN, Mr Floyd’s brother Philonese said the video footage was the only difference between this case and others throughout history involving the deaths of African-American men.
He cited the example of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old boy who was killed in 1955. An all-white jury acquitted his alleged murderers after deliberating for less than an hour.
“You have to understand that, to me, Emmett Till, he was the first George Floyd. There just wasn’t any cameras around. That’s the only thing that changed, the cameras, the technology, it helped open up doors,” Philonise Floyd said.
“Because without that, my brother just would have been another person on the side of the road left to die.”
Speaking to Good Morning Britain today, George Floyd’s aunt Angela Harrelson said Ms Frazier’s footage “meant everything” to the case.
“Without her video, it wouldn’t be a story. It would be another black man killed by the police, but nobody would really know why,” she said.
“My nephew would be dead, it would just be everything back to normal. He would be just another statistic, basically.
“Without her video, I mean – that video meant everything. And I commend her. She was so brave, because she held that camera for nine minutes and 29 seconds.
“She was scared, she was nervous, but she held on. And the family, we are so eternally grateful to her.”
Ms Frazier herself celebrated the guilty verdict on Facebook yesterday.
“I just cried so hard,” the teenager said.
“My heart was beating so fast, I was so anxious. But to know guilty on all three charges! Thank you God, thank you thank you thank you.
“Justice has been served.”