The Minneapolis teenager who recorded the explosive video showing ex-officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on the neck of a handcuffed George Floyd before his death in police custody is now receiving a prestigious human rights award for capturing the cell phone footage.
PEN America, a prestigious literature and human rights non-profit founded in 1922 and headquartered in New York City, announced Tuesday that 17-year-old Darnella Frazier will be honored in December with the PEN/Benenson Courage Award.
“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 police,” PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel said in a statement.
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“With remarkable steadiness, Darnella carried out the expressive act of bearing witness, and allowing hundreds of millions around the world to see what she saw,” she continued. “Without Darnella’s presence of mind and readiness to risk her own safety and wellbeing, we may never have known the truth about George Floyd’s murder.”
Frazier will share the Courage Award with Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who was pushed out by the Trump administration. PEN America did not immediately return a Fox News request for comment Wednesday.
“Darnella Frazier took an enormous amount of flak in the wake of releasing the video,” Nossel said in an interview with The Associated Press. “People were accusing her of being in it for the money, or for being famous, or were asking why she didn’t intervene. And it was just left this way. We wanted to go back and recognize and elevate this singular act.”
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Frazier has not spoken publicly about her role in recording the footage that sparked nationwide protests against racial injustice and police brutality, as well as instances of violent rioting and looting, besides what she told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune the day after Floyd’s death.
“It was like a natural instinct, honestly” to start filming, said Frazier, who lives in the neighborhood. “The world needed to see what I was seeing. Stuff like this happens in silence too many times.”
Her attorney, Seth Cobin, told the Star-Tribune in June that Frazier was not looking to be a hero and was “just a 17-year-old high school student, with a boyfriend and a job at the mall, who did the right thing. She’s the Rosa Parks of her generation.”
“She had no idea she would witness and document one of the most important and high-profile police murders in American history,” Cobin said. “If it wasn’t for her bravery, presence of mind, and steady hand, and her willingness to post the video on Facebook and share her trauma with the world, all four of those police officers would still be on the streets, possibly terrorizing other members of the community.”
Cobin told Fox News on Wednesday he hasn’t spoken to his client in a couple of days and would circle back if she chooses to speak publicly about the award in the future.
Others being honored by PEN in December include the author and musician Patti Smith and Chinese dissident Xu Zhiyong.
Last week, a judge upheld second-degree murder and manslaughter charges against Chauvin in connection to Floyd’s death. A third-degree murder charge was dropped. Three other officers at the scene that day, Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng, and Thomas Lane, who have all been fired from the force, remain charged with aiding and abetting related to the incident.
The video captured by Frazier showed Floyd was subdued and restrained on the street, with Chauvin kneeling on the back of his neck for nearly nine minutes, pinning his face to the floor. Floyd continued to plead for his life, saying repeatedly that he could not breathe, to tell his kids he loves them, and that the officers were going to kill him.
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Court documents said Keung and Lane restrained and pinned Floyd’s back and legs to the street and Thao maintained bystander watch. Bystanders increasingly shouted to the officers that Floyd was not resisting arrest and was no longer breathing.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.