On Tuesday, the Black Minneapolis teenager who filmed the arrest and death of George Floyd, capturing footage that would spark worldwide protests, was honored with the PEN America award for courage.
The literary and human rights organization PEN America held a virtual gala Tuesday, to honor activists, artists and leaders. Darnella Frazier, 17, was presented the Courage Award by director Spike Lee, who offered praise to the high school senior who faced backlash for sharing the video of Floyd’s death.
“My sister, I commend you and you deserve this award,” said Lee.
Floyd died after former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin knelt on on the handcuffed man’s neck for nine minutes on a Minneapolis street.
“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,” said PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel in a statement. “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.”
On May 25, Frazier was taking her 9-year-old cousin to a store when she saw Floyd’s interaction with police and began to record. She shared the video on social media, and it was soon seen around the world.
All four officers involved were fired, and Chauvin faces manslaughter and murder charges.
“I never would imagine out of my whole 17 years of living that this will be me,” Frazier said after receiving the award. “It’s just a lot to take in, but I couldn’t say thank you enough for everything that’s been coming towards me.”
Frazier faced significant criticism online after sharing the video. Some critics said the teen should have physically intervened with the arrests, while other accused her of posting the video for attention.
TMZ reported that Frazier sought therapy for trauma in the aftermath of Floyd’s death and that the family relocated out of the neighborhood that became a flashpoint for protests.
Past recipients of the Courage award include activists at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and Flint, Michigan water contamination whistleblowers.