The Teenager Who Recorded George Floyd’s Fatal Arrest Honored With Award For Courage

Darnella Frazier “bore witness to a critical truth at great personal and emotional cost—and our country is in her debt.”

17-year-old Darnella Frazier |
17-year-old Darnella Frazier |

A teenage girl who helped spark a nationwide civil rights movement after she recorded the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers has been honored with an award for courage. 

Darnella Frazier, 17, received the 2020 PEN/Benenson Courage Award from literary and free expression organization PEN America on Tuesday.

“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,” PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel said in a statement announcing Frazier as a recipient of the award.

“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,” Nossel continued.

Frazier documented Floyd’s fatal arrest with her cell phone on May 25, when former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes as Floyd said “I can’t breathe” before losing consciousness. Her video of the incident quickly spread online, prompting nationwide protests and continuous calls for more police accountability, as well as an end to police brutality and systemic racism. Black Lives Matter demonstrations filled cities across the U.S. for months. 

Chauvin, the officer seen on Frazier’s video choking Floyd, was previously charged with 3rd-degree murder and manslaughter, but Minnesota's attorney general in June increased his charge to second-degree murder. The other officers involved in Floyd’s death, Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng, and Thomas Lane, have been charged with aiding and abetting murder.

“With courage and clear-eyed resolve, Darnella bore witness to a critical truth at great personal and emotional cost—and our country is in her debt,” said Jennifer Egan, author and president of PEN America’s Board of Trustees.

Director Spike Lee presented the award to Frazier, who said after she received the award, “I never would've imagined out of my whole 17 years of living that this'll be me."

"It's just a lot to take in, but I couldn't say thank you enough for everything that's been coming towards me,” Frazier continued.

According to PEN America’s announcement, Frazier is a senior in high school in Minneapolis and is looking forward to attending college.

A virtual gala for PEN America honorees was held on Tuesday night. Other honorees included former President Barack Obama, Executive Vice Chairman of Hearst Frank A. Bennack Jr., writer and performer Patti Smith, Chinese organizer and dissident Xu Zhiyong, and Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who was a key witness during the impeachment of President Donald Trump.

Previous recipients of this award include Anita Hill, who testified before Congress in 1991 about sexual harassment allegedly by Clarence Thomas, and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student activists Cameron Kasky, Samantha Fuentes, and Zion Kelly, who helped lead a nationwide movement for gun reform after the Parkland shooting.