A Cellphone Was the Only Hero at George Floyd’s Murder

Candace Owens, the conservative Black commentator, was right when he said that George Floyd was no hero. He is not. But our digital age has certainly made him a martyr. It is the cell phone video recorded by 17-year-old high school student Darnella Frazier that is considered irrefutable evidence of Floyd’s massacre and initiated the transformation of a middle-aged addict. grappling with prison records into an icon, a stele, an emblem, his name is read by children in the classroom, his face is painted in tribute colors on the city walls his soul is prayed to in churches, synagogues and mosques around the world. We hardly need to wait for the wheel of justice to turn. Derek Chauvin’s fate, at least before the court of public opinion, was sealed by the time Frazier aimed her camera at him, confirming cell phone cameras were society’s newest surveillance tool. , a tool capable of exposing all manner of injustice, whether it’s a security guard hysteria at a strip club or a police officer committing a murder on the streets of Minneapolis.

As her name becomes known, Frazier has also been praised for her bravery, her own GoFundMe page having raised more than half a million dollars to provide “peace and healing” to those in need. traumatized by what she witnessed and to the ongoing trauma of the unique form of insults and threats of the digital age that she endured long afterward. “There have been many nights where I stayed awake apologizing and apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more,” she said, “and not physically interacting and not saving his life.” And what is that modern thinking, somehow the camera is the trigger for the crime. In the age of cyber warriors, it’s hard to be a truth-teller.

Darnella Frazier (3rd R) uses her cell phone to record the arrest of George Floyd, in a still image taken from the Minneapolis Police body camera video in Minneapolis, Minnesota, US May 25 May 2020.

Minneapolis Police Department / REUTERS . Handout

But let’s be clear: Floyd is not playing the hero here. In fact, he was brutally acted upon. And Frazier’s presence at this historic moment was an accident. She went there with her nine-year-old cousin, who wanted snacks from Cup Foods but was too young to go on her own. She had to be mindful of pointing her cell phone camera at the scene, while she, along with a small crowd on the sidewalk, berated the police for what they were doing. And it took a lot of perseverance, she was able to continue to point the camera as she watched a man die right in front of her eyes.

While the still image of Floyd would evolve later, it was the video posted on Facebook that changed the world. Without cell phones, Frazier and other bystanders could only describe what they saw, and memory, at best a subjective tool for uncovering the truth, often falls victim to manipulation of power. That’s because recalling crime witnesses must first go through a credibility hierarchy, one that enhances or diminishes testimonies in response to cultural cues like race, gender, geography Economical taste, authority, presentation, clarity and character. Given all of that, it’s likely a hypothetical Darnella Frazier from a time before cell phones, recalling to a judge or jury about the deadly assault she witnessed on a George Floyd assumes, can the testimony of a white male law enforcement officer like Derek Chauvin be trusted and the green wall of silence built to protect him?

When it comes to the abuse of power, at least when it’s on display in public spaces, you can’t hide anymore. The camera — some cameras — will always be there to remember you.

We are greeted every day by a series of images manipulated and distorted to make us feel certain emotions and do certain things, such as spending unlimited money and believing in conspiracies. illusory. But while we’re increasingly questioning the authenticity of the photo, for now, at least, the raw, unedited video is still of re-recorded quality. The raw video was shot by a bystander – not an expert, not an activist with an agenda – who happened to be on the scene and captured the violent injustice in her presence even. even more believable, more believable, because our response assumes that there is no pretense or ego, no fashion or framework, no interpretive glances or intentional pointing. Just the truth.

People raise their fists and hold a portrait of George Floyd during a protest following the guilty verdict during the trial of Derek Chauvin on April 20, 2021, in Atlanta, Georgia.


In 1945, when British photojournalist George Rodger went to Germany on a mission at the Bergen-Belsen extermination camp — the first photographer there — he felt embarrassed as he peered through his viewfinder to assemble “the goods.” thousands of Jewish corpses into beautiful photographic works,” and then refuses to mention the war and its aftermath. But a camera held by an unwitting photojournalist who has become the hallmark of our times is a whole different story. In the hands of Darnella Frazier, the video is merely delivered what happened after that? arrive our eyes now when we open it from our inbox, watch it on cable TV, or watch it from a post found on our cell phones. All of which means that when it comes to the abuse of power, at least when it’s on display in public spaces, you can’t hide anymore. Camera-some cameras—Will always be there to remember you.

The video shot by Frazier provides an interesting study. For comparison, consider first how in 2015 Walter Scott, a 50-year-old African-American, was stopped by police in North Charleston, South Carolina for a broken taillight. Scott, afraid of being caught, fled on foot, and Officer Michael Slager ran after him. It was quite early, and while Scott’s car was parked on the grounds of an auto parts store, he ran behind a metal fence near the back of a pawn shop, where there appeared to be no anyone in sight, Slager was right. behind him to pursue.

But it turned out there to be someone is present. Feidin Santana, a Dominican barber on his way to work, noticed the commotion, reached for his phone and recorded the whole scene. Video obtained by Santana shows Slager shooting Scott eight times in the back, killing him. The officer then approached Scott’s body, checked his pulse, and eventually ran to retrieve his Taser and place it near the scene. This was done to match the lie that Scott tried to take from him and that Slager was forced to kill him in self-defense. Slager said into his radio: “Scenes are shot and subject is taken down. “He grabbed my Taser.”

One cannot read this arresting image, moving or still, without concluding that the death of George Floyd is neither surprising nor unusual. Its strength lies in its normality

In contrast, Darnella Frazier’s video of the death of George Floyd has no clear narration. It doesn’t tell a clear story. It was the only scene that showed a white police officer resting his head on the neck of a Black man lying on his stomach on the sidewalk, his head sandwiched into the right rear tire of a police cruiser. The policeman shoved his hands in his pockets and wore sunglasses on his head while he looked away nonchalantly. But here’s the bottom line: Even though it’s just one scene, the video lasts 9 minutes and 29 seconds.

No moral person can escape the terrible awkwardness of watching it, an uneasiness that not even the eye-catching squad can shield you from some degree of responsibility for what you’re doing. see. In fact, when you watch it, you get the feeling that you’re committing a crime yourself – in a way, if you believe in the spirit of the collective, we all do. There was even something like a crucifixion to it, a long, slow and painful ending, performed in public, attended by both official and unofficial viewers and an hour of music. common cry from the dying — God for his “father,” Floyd for his recently departed “mama.”

George Floyd’s brother Philonise Floyd speaks to Darnella Frazier after a ceremony honoring the life of her uncle, Leneal Frazier, on July 19, 2021 in Minneapolis. Frazier, the uncle of Darnella Frazier, was killed earlier this month when his car was hit by a Minneapolis police officer during a chase through the north side of the city.

Mark Vancleave / Star Tribune via AP

Where the movie about the shooting of Walter Scott tells a story, where the murder happens instantaneously. But with Floyd, killing To be story, and while the passage of time is essential to its power, focusing on a single, unchanging scene also gives it the quality of an iconic still or even photograph. is a sculpture. A man rests his head on another man’s neck. That man is dying. Both can be carved in Carrara marble and displayed in a museum or a public square, a leaning towards Pieta, with the Madonna and child being replaced by the executioner and prey. his. It really doesn’t matter who they are — George Floyd and Derek Chauvin — they just represent a larger whole. And symbolism is crucial to the reaction the scene provokes, as one cannot read this captured image, moving or still, without concluding that George Floyd’s death was not a crime. surprising or unusual. Its strength lies in its own normalcy. It’s a re-enactment of the whole unfortunate relationship between blacks and whites in America and beyond, the whole wrong relationship between the strong and the powerless all over the world. Indeed, there have been no images since the June 5, 1989 confrontation between a lone man with a shopping bag and a convoy of tanks – “Tank Man”, as it is known, because His identity was never discovered – in the heat of Tiananmen Square The protests in China had a lot of international resonance.

Taken from Seen and Unseen: Technology, Social Media, and the Fight for Racial Justice by Marc Lamont Hill and Todd Brewster. Copyright © 2022. Available from Atria Books, a publication of Simon and Schuster.

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