DARNELLA FRAZIER

The Pulitzer Prize is an award celebrating achievements in newspaper, magazine and online journalism, literature and musical composition within the United States.

Administered by Columbia University, it was established in 1917 courtesy of provisions in the will of Joseph Pulitzer, who made his fortune as a newspaper publisher.

Prizes are awarded yearly in twenty-one categories.

In twenty of the categories, each winner receives a certificate and a $15,000 cash award — up from $10,000 in 2017.

The winner in the public service category — annually awarded for journalism — is presented a gold medal.

Darnella Frazier is an eighteen-year-old American woman who recorded the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, and then posted her video on Facebook.

The cell phone video — which went viral — undermined the initial account of Floyd’s death by the Minneapolis Police Department, and led to criminal charges against four police officers.

The police account in the tragedy’s immediate aftermath, described Floyd’s death as a “medical incident.”

On Friday June 11, 2021 Frazier was awarded a special citation by the Pulitzer Prizes, recognizing her for courageously recording the video, which helped launch global protests against police brutality and racial injustice.

Frazier’s award was intended to highlight “the crucial role of citizens in journalists’ quest for truth and justice,” the Pulitzer Board said.

Frazier was 17 when she recorded the arrest and death of Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man.

She testified at the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin that she was walking to a corner grocery store to get snacks with her then-9-year-old cousin, when she saw a man being pinned to the pavement, “terrified, scared, begging for his life.”

She didn’t want her younger cousin to see what was happening, so she ushered the girl into the store and then returned to the sidewalk.

She started recording, she said, because “it wasn’t right. He was suffering. He was in pain.”

She continued to record, even as she felt threatened when Chauvin — ignoring the cries of the bystanders — pulled out his mace, while kneeling on Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds.

Frazier’s video, which documented Floyd saying repeatedly that he couldn’t breathe — before going limp — was posted to Facebook hours after it was recorded, sparking outrage, and served as a key piece of evidence in Chauvin’s trial and conviction.

Roy Peter Clark, a senior scholar at the Poynter Institute, stated in a column for Nieman Lab in May, that Frazier should win a Pulitzer for her video.

Clark, who has been a Pulitzer juror five times, expounded in June when he told The Associated Press that Frazier was no different than the many journalists or artists who have won Pulitzer Prizes for embracing tolerance, equality and social justice.

“There she was, at 17…witnessing an injustice and she stood there in the face of threats and captured that video.

It would be hard to select, even from the work of professional journalists over recent years or decades, a 10-minute video that had as profound an impact as this young woman’s video did,” he said.

He described her video, which spoke truth to power and gave a voice to the voiceless, as “globe shaking.”

Clark added that the special citation given to Frazier, showcases exceptional work that falls outside specific award categories.

In being so honored, Frazier joins the select company of Ida B. Wells, Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan and the staff of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, for their response to a 2018 shooting in their newsroom.

She also was cited by PEN America, a literary and human rights organization, which presented her with the PEN/Benenson Courage Award last December, an honor she shared with Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, who was pushed out by the Trump administration.

Observed PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel at the time, “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 the police.”

During her testimony at Chauvin’s trial, Frazier told jurors that she sometimes wishes she had done more to help Floyd.

“When I look at George Floyd, I look at my dad, I look at my brothers, I look at my cousins, my uncles, because they’re all Black.

I look at how that could have been one of them.”

She testified, “It’s been nights I stayed up, apologizing and apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more, and not physically interacting and not saving his life.

But it’s like, it’s not what I should have done, it’s what he [Chauvin] should have done.”

And speaking of Black men in her life…

Frazier’s uncle, Leneal Lamont Frazier, 40, tragically fulfilled her nightmarish prophecy when he died early in the morning of July 6, 2021 after his vehicle was struck by a police squad car in hot pursuit of another driver, accused of robbery and car-jacking.

Frazier, the uncle, had nothing whatever to do with any of that.

And the robbery suspect got away.

“MINNEAPOLIS police killed my uncle…Another Black man lost his life in the hands of the police!” she lamentably chronicled on Facebook.

“Minneapolis police [have] cost my whole family a big loss…today has been a day full of heartbreak and sadness.”

In her Facebook post, she shared a photo of her uncle, as well as a screenshot of exchanged text messages between the two, in which her uncle Leneal said he misses Darnella, and loves her.

She wrote that, had she known their recent time together at the beach would be their last, “I would have hugged you so much longer, told you I love you way harder.

It’s just hard for me to accept I won’t see you again.”

The well-deserved accolades, commendations and money are one thing.

But unfortunately, the trauma associated with what Darnella Frazier has witnessed and experienced for more than a year, trumps it all, and cannot be easily washed away.

[Editor’s Note: This piece was written by Mr. Kaplan in July 2021.]

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