The teenage bystander who filmed former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneel on George Floyd’s neck during an arrest, killing him, has decided to speak out for the first time one year after Floyd’s murder.
Darnella Frazier was 17 years old when she captured a moment that would soon help launch some of the largest protests against police brutality in the United States and worldwide. She inadvertently got people into the streets, and the video, along with her testimony, were crucial factors that led to Chauvin being found guilty of second and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter last month. But the incident left Frazier deeply traumatized: She has largely avoided press and has stayed out of the public eye, until now. On Tuesday, the one-year anniversary of Floyd’s death, Frazier published a lengthy statement on Facebook, which she later shared to Instagram.
“I didn’t know this man from a can of paint, but I knew his life mattered,” Frazier wrote. “I knew that he was in pain. I knew that he was another black man in danger with no power.”
Frazier recounted that she was walking her nine-year-old cousin to the corner store at the time, unprepared for what she would soon see.
“I am 18 now and I still hold the weight and trauma of what I witnessed a year ago,” she wrote. “It’s a little easier now, but I’m not who I used to be. A part of my childhood was taken from me. My 9-year-old cousin who witnessed the same thing I did got a part of her childhood taken from her.
“Having to up and leave because my home was no longer safe, waking up to reporters at my door, closing my eyes at night only to see a man who is brown like me, lifeless on the ground. I couldn’t sleep properly for weeks. I used to shake so bad at night my mom had to rock me to slep. Hopping from hotel to hotel because we didn’t have a home and looking over our back every day in the process. Having panic and anxiety attacks every time I seen a police car, not knowing who to trust because a lot of people are evil with bad intentions. I hold that weight. 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. Behind this smile, behind these awards, behind the publicity, I’m a girl trying to heal from something I am reminded of every day.”
Frazier also emphasized the importance of humanizing Floyd, despite smears to his character regarding his alleged drug use. “He was a loved one, someone’s son, someone’s father, someone’s brother, and someone’s friend,” she wrote.
She also had plenty to say about police officers who abuse their power. “My video didn’t save George Floyd, but it put his murderer away and off the streets... These officers shouldn’t get to decide if someone gets to live or not. It’s time these officers start getting held accountable.”
Bystanders shouldn’t have to be relied upon to expose the practices of police officers, members of society who are supposed to be held to a higher standard. But until policing as it currently exists is either entirely transformed or done away with entirely, there will be more Darnella Fraziers, more traumatized people who feel compelled to reach for their cell phones whenever they see an increasingly hostile police interaction, ready, primed, and fully aware that they might just capture the next big thing, despite the emotional toll it will leave behind.
“George Floyd, I can’t express enough how I wish things could have went different,” Frazier wrote. “But I want you to know you will always be in my heart.”