The Minneapolis teenager whose video of George Floyd dying under the knee of a police officer inspired global outrage received a prestigious award from Oscar-winning director Spike Lee in a virtual ceremony that included recognition from other notables.
"I'm so proud of my sister," Lee said of Darnella Frazier, who shot the video and posted it on social media. "She documented the murder of George Floyd — our brother, King Floyd — and that footage reverberated around this God's earth, and people took to the streets."
Frazier, sitting on her living room couch, followed and said, "I never would imagine out of my whole 17 years of living that this will be me."
She looked down, paused to gather her emotions and continued, "It's just a lot to take in. But I couldn't say thank you enough for everything that's been coming toward me."
Until accepting the 2020 Benenson Courage Award from PEN America on Tuesday, Frazier had not spoken publicly about her role in telling the story of Floyd's death on May 25 beyond what she said to the Star Tribune the next day. "The world needed to see what I was seeing," she said then. "Stuff like this happens in silence too many times."
Frazier documented the arrest of Floyd, who fell into unconsciousness as now-fired police officer Derek Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd's neck for roughly nine minutes at the intersection of S. Chicago Avenue and E. 38th Street. Floyd died that same night.
The video quickly spread across social media and in news reports, leading to protests around the world. Chauvin, who is white, and three other fired officers await trial on various murder and manslaughter charges in connection with the Black man's death.
The portion of the ceremony honoring Frazier closed with many on-camera thank-yous, including actress Meryl Streep, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker and Prior Courage Award honorees, including Anita Hill, who testified against the nomination of Clarence Thomas during his U.S. Senate confirmation hearings.
"Your quick thinking and bravery under pressure has made the world safer and more just," Hill said.
Joining Frazier in receiving the Benenson Courage Award from New York-based PEN America was former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who was forced out of her job last year by the Trump administration. Yovanovitch was recalled from Kiev as unofficial Trump envoy Rudy Giuliani pressed Ukrainian officials to investigate unsubstantiated corruption allegations against 2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
Prior Courage Award honorees include student gun violence activists from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Cameron Kasky, Samantha Fuentes, and Zion Kelly; the Women's March; Flint, Mich., contaminated water whistleblowers LeeAnne Walters and Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha; and the surviving staff of the French publication Charlie Hebdo, honored in the wake of the killings of 12 of their colleagues.
This year's PEN America ceremony was held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482