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Pulitzer Prize awards special citation to teen who filmed George Floyd's murder

The ubiquity of smartphones made her "courageous reporting" possible.

People walk past a mural showing the face of George Floyd, an unarmed handcuffed black man who died after a white policeman knelt on his neck during an arrest in the US, painted on a section of Israel's controversial separation barrier in the city of Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank on March 31, 2021. - The teenager who took the viral video of George Floyd's death said on March 30, at the trial of the white police officer charged with killing the 46-year-old Black man that she knew at the time "it wasn't right." Darnella Frazier, 18, was among the witnesses who gave emotional testimony on Tuesday at the high-profile trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. Chauvin, 45, is charged with murder and manslaughter for his role in Floyd's May 25, 2020 death, which was captured on video by Frazier and seen by millions, sparking anti-racism protests around the globe. (Photo by Emmanuel DUNAND / AFP) (Photo by EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP via Getty Images)
EMMANUEL DUNAND via Getty Images
Igor Bonifacic
Igor Bonifacic|@igorbonifacic|June 11, 2021 3:33 PM

Darnella Frazier, the teen who recorded the murder of George Floyd last summer, has earned a special citation from the Pulitzer Prize board. If not for Frazier's actions, one of the only official records we would have had of Floyd's death was the press release Minneapolis Police published on May 25th, 2020. The nearly 200-word document doesn't mention the fact former police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on Floyd's neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds. She later testified at Chauvin's trial, with her video proving instrumental in his conviction.

On Friday, the Pulitzer Prize board said it decided to recognize Frazier for "courageously reporting 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, who was 17 when she filmed the clip, was walking to a local store with her cousin when she saw the scene between Floyd and Minneapolis Police unfold. She captured Floyd's last moments, including his repeated pleas of "I can't breathe."

This isn't Frazier's first award for her actions. Last year, she earned recognition from PEN America. "A lot of people call me a hero even though I don't see myself as one. I was just in the right place at the right time," Frazier wrote in a Facebook post marking the one-year anniversary of Floyd's death. "Behind this smile, behind these awards, behind the publicity, I'm a girl trying to heal from something I am reminded of every day."

According to the Pulitzer Prize office, some amateur photographers have won in the past, and other winning journalism entries may have included footage that the individual shot on their phone. Still, Frazier's award says a lot about how phones have enabled citizen journalism in recent years. After all, it was Ramsey Orta and his video of Eric Garner's death that made "I can't breathe" into a rallying cry against police violence aimed at communities of color.