At the 2021 Human Rights Awards Dinner, The Advocates for Human Rights presented Darnella Frazier with a Human Rights Defender Award. Below are the remarks from Jim O’Neal, Chair of The Advocates’ Board of Directors, and Traci Bransford, Darnella’s pro bono counsel and an attorney with Stinson LLP.
Jim O’Neal, Board Chair:
I am here to present our Human Rights Defender Award to a brave young Minnesotan, Darnella Frazier.
The initial public report by the Minneapolis Police Department on George Floyd’s death described a man who appeared to be under the influence, a man resisting arrest, and officers who called an ambulance when the man exhibited medical distress. It noted that the man died at the hospital and that no weapons were used. It might have been all that we heard about it, except for one thing. The event was witnessed.
Witness is a critical human rights function, particularly when oppressors seek to discredit the oppressed. Observers brave enough to document abuses by governments and purveyors of hate make it possible to hold perpetrators accountable. Because it was witnessed, the murder of George Floyd was not brushed aside. Instead, every minute is burned into our consciousness.
There was one principal witness to this murder. Darnella Frazier documented for all to see the police brutality that the Black community endures. She set out to take her young cousin to her local drugstore. When she came upon four officers in the process of killing a Black man handcuffed on the pavement, she knew that what she was seeing was wrong. Holding a cell phone camera, she stood in plain sight within a few feet of the officers and videotaped every minute as the breath was squeezed from George Floyd’s body.
Because of Darnella Frazier, people all over the world didn’t just hear about but directly witnessed a policeman’s knee on a Black man’s neck, saw the officer’s smug indifference, heard his arrogant dismissals of the pleas not only of George Floyd, but of Minneapolis citizens who begged for the life of a man they didn’t know.
And the world responded with an outrage long overdue. Derek Chauvin is now a convicted murderer, while George Floyd will live forever in our history, alongside Emmitt Till, Medgar Evers, Addie Mae Collins; Cynthia Wesley; Carole Robertson; and Denise McNair, the four little girls murdered in their Sunday School classroom in a Birmingham church, and many other victims of white supremacy and American racism.
Darnella Frazier represents the best in us, a person willing to stand up to injustice and racism at no small cost to herself. The Advocates for Human Rights is proud to present her with the 2021 Human Rights Defender award.
Thank you, Jim. On behalf of Darnella Frazier and her family, I humbly accept this award from The Advocates for Human Rights.
As her pro bono counsel, words don’t describe what Darnella has gone through this year. I do want to express to you that she is very humble in her acceptance of this award and in the acknowledgment of all the attention that she has received this year, locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally.
From the bottom of her heart, she wants you all to know that she truly appreciates the work that you do. It’s that great work that inspires her and allows her to know that what she did was the right thing.
Again, I thank you on behalf of Darnella Frazier for this wonderful, prestigious award. She’ll continue to do the right thing with the support of organizations like yours. Thank you.