A teenage girl and her cell phone helped bring a murderer to justice and forced a reckoning for the entire judicial system in America.
Last May, Darnella Frazier was walking with her 9-year-old cousin to a corner store for snacks when she happened upon a gruesome scene — a police officer with his knee pressed against a man’s neck who was struggling to breathe. Darnella, then 17, became more than just a bystander the moment she started recording on her phone.
Her video led to one of the rarest outcomes in the history of this country — the conviction of a white cop for murdering a Black man.
“The world needed to see what I was seeing,” she later said to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Her eyes opened the eyes of the world.
She showed us the clearest and most damning evidence refuting the statement the police department released soon after George Floyd was killed. Their press release made no mention of then-police officer Derek Chauvin even touching Floyd. The headline on the police version of events said, “Man dies after medical incident during police interaction.”
It was her video, uploaded to Facebook and watched by millions around the world, that showed Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes. It was her video that provoked a reaction so intense and raw that it ignited the largest protests against police brutality and racism our country has seen.
It was an excruciating video to watch, and many could not bring themselves to watch yet another Black man die on our phones. But Darnella made us confront the brutality we know exists by revealing its haunting details — Chauvin’s stance, the casual hand in the pocket, the ignored pleas for mercy, a grown man calling for his mother. Even if we diverted our eyes from Chauvin, we saw the cops standing by, watching a fellow officer continue to suffocate a motionless man on the ground. Without her video, the police’s narrative about Floyd dying at the hospital from a “medical incident” would remain the official version of events. A murderous cop would still be on the force.
Darnella persevered in that moment despite risks to her own safety.
It’s easy to praise a hero, especially in retrospect. It’s harder to face the questions her actions compel us to ask ourselves: Would I have had the courage of Darnella Frazier? Am I raising a child who would be as composed as she was while witnessing an agent of the state torture and murder a man?
Many parents would reasonably fear for their own child’s own safety and well-being if they encounter a similar situation. But Darnella and her 9-year-old cousin are reminders of what children are capable of and their remarkable resilience. They both testified during a trial watched by millions.
Initially, Darnella faced online backlash from those who attacked her for posting the video. Commenters accused her of seeking attention and criticized her for not doing more to intervene in the moment. The notion that a Black teenage girl should have directly confronted four armed cops while one is committing a felony is beyond ludicrous.
But she was still a child in the aftermath, trying to process what had happened.
She told the jury during Chauvin’s trial that she cried repeatedly at night, apologizing to Floyd for not doing more to save his life. In him, she saw her own Black father, brothers and friends. She has needed therapy to deal with her own trauma.
She may now realize what her courage made possible.
In the moment when she witnessed the unjust and merciless power of the state, Darnella reclaimed her own power. Hitting record became an act of resistance. Sharing what she saw spoke truth to power. Those who raised their voices against it became a chorus for change.
Her video changed our country.
Her act of recording it should change our hearts.