When 17-year-old Darnella Frazier went out to the store on Monday, May 25, she couldn’t have known it would land her at the center of a national firestorm. It was then that she stumbled upon police arresting George Floyd, and filmed the encounter that would lead to the man’s death. She shared the video to social media that night and it quickly went viral, igniting a powder keg of unrest all across the nation.
Now, the teen will be presented with the PEN/Benenson Courage Award for her actions.
PEN America, a literary and human rights organization, is set to honor the teen in December with an online event.
“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 Tuesday.
Frazier will share the honor with Marie Yovanovitch, the former US ambassador to Ukraine who was ousted by the Trump administration.
After the George Floyd video initially spread, Frazier faced unfair accusations of seeking attention or failing to act in the incident. The backlash is something that Nossel highlighted as a factor in deciding to honor Frazier.
“Darnella Frazier took an enormous amount of flak in the wake of releasing the video,” Nossel told 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.”
Frazier’s Response After Initial Backlash
In a post to her Facebook on May 23, the day after the incident, Frazier lashed out at critics who said she shared the video to get attention. “Now y’all just sound dumb and ignorant!! I don’t expect anyone who wasn’t placed in my position to understand why and how I feel the way that I do,” she wrote.
She went on to point out that, as a minor, she was in no position to intervene. “[O]f course I’m not about to fight off a cop,” she said, “I’m SCARED wtf. […] Fighting would’ve got someone else killed or in the same position George (may he Rest In Peace 🙏🏽❤️) was in !”
An Emotional Return to the Scene
The Facebook post evidently came after Frazier went back to the scene of the incident, where demonstrators had started to gather on Tuesday. In footage of the scene from NowThis, she talked about how what she saw on May 26 effected her.
“I don’t know how to feel cause it’s so sad, bro,” Frazier says with tears in her eyes. “They killed this man and I was right there. I was five feet away. It’s so traumatizing.”
Meanwhile, Darnella’s mother expressed concern for her daughter’s well-being as she faces a media frenzy, telling the outlet that the teen already suffers from social anxiety. However, she also told the outlet that she felt her daughter was in the right place in order to get Floyd’s story out to the world.