The 18-year-old who took the viral video of George Floyd’s death on Tuesday told the US 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 was among the witnesses who gave emotional testimony at the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
Frazier, who said she suffers from social anxiety and who has declined virtually all interview requests in the 10 months since Floyd died, testified that the sight of him on the ground compelled her to stay: “It wasn’t right. He was suffering. He was in pain.”
Chauvin, 45, is charged with murder and manslaughter for his role in Floyd’s death on May 25 last year, after he and three other police officers arrested and handcuffed Floyd on suspicion he had used a fake $20 note to buy cigarettes at a shop nearby.
Frazier, who grew up in the neighbourhood, arrived a few minutes later and filmed Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes as Floyd said he could not breathe in a video that was seen by millions around the world and sparked significant demonstrations against racism and police brutality against Black people across the United States. Anti-racism protests also took place around the globe.
Other witnesses included an off-duty firefighter who said her attempts to give assistance to Floyd were rebuffed by police, a man who made an emergency 911 call after the incident to report a “murder” and a professional mixed martial arts fighter who told the court he believed he had “witnessed a murder”.
Frazier cried when prosecutors showed her a frame of her video, a moment when Chauvin, his knee on Floyd’s neck, appears to look directly into her lens.
“He had this cold look, heartless,” Frazier said, as Chauvin listened at a nearby table, taking notes in a yellow legal pad. “He didn’t care what we were saying, it didn’t change anything he was doing.”
Frazier described Floyd as “scared” and “terrified” and “begging for his life.”
“It wasn’t right. He was suffering. He was in pain,” she said. “I knew it was wrong. We all knew it was wrong.”
‘Witnessed a murder’
Also testifying was 27-year-old Genevieve Hansen, a Minneapolis firefighter and emergency medical technician (EMT) who was off-duty and out taking a walk on the day of Floyd’s arrest.
Hansen said she identified herself as a firefighter to police on the scene because she “noticed he needed medical attention.”
“He wasn’t moving and he was cuffed,” she said.
Hansen, who testified wearing her white firefighter’s uniform with a black tie, said a police officer rejected her offers to help, leaving her “totally distressed”.
“I was desperate to help and wasn’t gaining access,” she said. “I don’t know if you’ve seen anybody be killed but it’s upsetting.”
Another witness said he called 911 after an unconscious Floyd was taken away in an ambulance.
“I believed I witnessed a murder,” Donald Williams, 33, a mixed martial arts instructor, told the court. “I didn’t know what else to do.”
Williams said Floyd was already in “danger” when he arrived on the scene.
“You could see that he was trying to gasp for air, trying to breathe,” he said. “You could see his eyes slowly rolling back in his head.”
Williams said Floyd was being held by Chauvin in a “blood choke” used in wrestling or martial arts.
Portions of his recorded 911 call were played in court.
“He just went and killed this guy,” Williams said in the call. “Murderers, bro … they just killed that man in front of the store.”
Asked who he was referring to, Williams said “the officer sitting over there” and pointed to Chauvin.
‘Trained to do’
Under questioning from Chauvin’s defence lawyer, Eric Nelson, Williams acknowledged that he called Chauvin and the officers names at the scene.
“You called him a tough guy,” Nelson said. “You called him a ‘bum’ 13 times.”
“They were not listening to anything I was telling them,” Williams said. “I had to speak out for Floyd.”
The video of Floyd’s death has been played repeatedly for the nine-woman, five-man jury at Chauvin’s trial, which began this week.
Prosecutors are seeking to demonstrate that Chauvin had no justification for using a dangerous neck restraint on a compliant Floyd.
Chauvin’s lawyer claimed in opening arguments that Floyd’s death was caused by a combination of illegal drugs and a medical condition rather than asphyxiation.
They have also claimed Chauvin was distracted from “the care” of Floyd by the angry bystanders.
Prosecutors asked Frazier whether she heard any bystanders threaten the police. She said no.
“Would you describe yourselves as an unruly mob?” Jerry Blackwell, a prosecutor, asked.
Frazier said the only person she saw being violent was Chauvin.
Chauvin, a 19-year veteran of the police force, faces up to 40 years in prison if convicted of the most serious charge — second-degree murder.
The trial is expected to last about a month.
Three other former police officers involved in the arrest – Tou Thao, Thomas Lane, and J Alexander Kueng – will be tried separately later this year.