Darnella Frazier was just 17 years old when she made the brave, on-the-spot decision to film the murder of George Floyd by police officer Derek Chauvin. That footage—released on social media—sparked mass protests across the country and beyond. It also served as key evidence in the trial that found Chauvin guilty of two charges of murder and one charge of manslaughter.
On Friday, the committee that administers the Pulitzer Prize—the highest honor bestowed in arts and media—recognized Frazier with a Special Citation Pulitzer Prize. The honor recognizes her for “courageously recording the murder of George Floyd, a video that spurred protests against police brutality around the world, highlighting the crucial role of citizens in journalists’ quest for truth and justice.”
Frazier’s decision to document the abuse and murder on her phone changed the world. Without it, it is possible there would have been little or no accountability for Floyd’s murder. But it also upended Frazier’s world and caused her immense pain. Testifying at Chauvin’s murder trial, she cried, saying, “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.” This, despite the fact that Chauvin had his knee on Floyd’s neck, and the fact that three other officers were on hand.
Frazier was forced to witness a horrific atrocity, but she has managed to speak with profound moral clarity on the ramifications of Floyd’s murder. “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,” she has said. “I have a Black father. I have a Black brother. I have Black friends. That could have been one of them.”
Frazier was just a high school student, but she did what few adults would have at the sight of police brutality: She stopped, she verbally interfered, she took out her camera and filmed it, she released that evidence to the world. The police report filed the day of Floyd’s death claims that he died of “medical distress” and omits the fact that Chauvin pressed his knee to Floyd’s neck. Frazier, a teenager, pursued justice where there was none. It was her video that exposed the truth.
Because of her, millions of people were forced to accept the reality that they might have preferred to ignore: that American police officers can use violence and kill without accountability. The question is why this evidence is needed. There are already countless examples of clear video footage of police killing people, especially Black people. Unlike Chauvin, most of those officers face no charges.
We shouldn’t have needed a high school girl to record a murder to make us see the violence and injustice just below the surface of American life. But since we do, Darnella Frazier deserves not just this recognition, but continued healing and respect.
Jenny Singer is a staff writer for Glamour. You can follow her on Twitter.