If there are such things as heroes, surely Darnella Frazier qualifies.
She was just 17 when she saw a police officer pin George Floyd under his knee, pressing him against the asphalt until all the life was squeezed out of him.
It started as a normal day. Darnella took her 9-year-old cousin out for a snack. She saw the police encounter a Black man and sent her cousin into a convenience store. Then she hit record on her cell phone.
The cousin wore a shirt that said “LOVE.” Darnella proved love is an action, that love takes risks, that love puts itself on the line for another, even a stranger.
She held her phone steady against the powerful display of hate and indifference before her by an armed man who took an oath to protect and serve. She held it as a man she didn’t know begged and gasped for his life under the knee of a police officer.
Then she had the courage to post the video on Facebook for the world to see.
Good thing she did, because the original statement by the Office of Public Information under Minneapolis Police summed up the murder of Floyd this way:
“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 Center by ambulance where he died a short time later.
“At no time were weapons of any type used by anyone involved in this incident. The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension has been called in to investigate this incident at the request of the Minneapolis Police Department.
“No officers were injured in the incident. Body worn cameras were on and activated during this incident.”
No mention of officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on the suspect’s neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds as the suspect lay prone on the asphalt, no mention of the suspect begging for his mama, no mention of him gasping for air saying, “I can’t breathe” over 28 times before he stopped breathing forever.
Darnella testified in the murder trial of Chauvin: “It wasn’t right,” she said.
She had the courage to bear witness, to be our witness. Her video was the “star witness” that held a white police officer accountable for the murder of a Black man. It took a jury of 12 only 10 hours to find Chauvin guilty.
Sadly, Darnella stays up nights regretting she did not do more, did not intervene to save his life.
She did so much. Her video cracked the blue wall too many police hide behind. This time, officers turned against their own. Even the police chief testified against his own officer.
The jury found Chauvin guilty of second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The verdict was met by sobs, cheers and honking horns. A nation could finally exhale.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz publicly thanked Darnella. “Taking that video, I think many folks know, is maybe the only reason that Derek Chauvin will go to prison.”
Darnella told the Minneapolis Star Tribune, “The world needed to see what I was seeing.” From the witness stand, she told us what she was seeing:
“When I look at George Floyd, I look at my dad, my brothers, my cousins, my uncles because they are all Black. I look at how that could have been one of them.”
For so long, Black lives have not mattered, which might be why Chauvin thought he could get away with it. Too many officers have.
Last week The New York Times ran a full page story spotlighting Black people killed by police who were never held accountable, like Tamir Rice, a boy of 12, who was playing with a toy gun in a Cleveland park when a cop opened fire just two seconds after pulling up.
The Chauvin case isn’t just about Chauvin. It’s about us. About us not believing Black people. About us blindly taking the side of the police, which I have been guilty of in the past.
This isn’t the end. Not for Chauvin, who has yet to be sentenced, not for Black Americans, who still fear for their lives every time police show up, not for police officers everywhere, who must renew their oath to protect and serve all people, not for police departments who must be open to sweeping reforms.
And it isn’t the end for us.
We all have cellphones. We all have the power to use them. To stay and watch. To hit record. To bear witness.
One of the prosecutors called those who stayed with Floyd, “a bouquet of humanity.” They saw a human being suffering and stayed to stop it.
We are the guardians of justice, all of us.
The last line jurors heard was the most powerful and truthful of all:
“‘You were told that Mr. Floyd died because his heart was too big … you know the truth. And the truth of the matter is, the reason George Floyd is dead is because Mr. Chauvin’s heart was too small.”
Her heart was heroic.