Speaking out for Floyd | Michael Jansen - GulfToday

Speaking out for Floyd

Michael Jansen

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.


A Police bodycam footage showed George Floyd was dragged out of the car.

A teenage girl called Darnella Frazier is one of the four child heroines of the US trial of policeman Derek Chauvin for the alleged murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020. She was 17 at the time and went with her nine-year-old cousin to buy snacks at the Cup Foods convenience store in the city of Minneapolis in the northern state of Minnesota.

When she saw Chauvin kneeling on the prone, handcuffed figure of Floyd and two other policemen holding him down on the pavement beside a parked car, she sent her cousin into the shop, took out her mobile phone, and filmed the scene as it grew increasingly distressing.    

She told the court she found, “A man terrified, scared, begging for his life..He was suffering. He was in pain.” She was the first bystander to witness the last 10 minutes of Floyd’s life. As half a dozen others gathered and pleaded for his life, Chauvin shifted his knee deeper into the man’s neck. Floyd’s hands were cuffed behind his back, making it difficult to breathe while lying on his chest.

Her cousin, who was not named, left the shop to watch in along with other horrified spectators. She said the paramedics, who arrived after some minutes, “asked Chauvin nicely to get off of Floyd. He still stayed on him.” Eventually they instructed Chauvin to release Floyd. When asked for her reaction, she said, “I was sad and kind of mad. It felt like Chauvin was stopping his breathing, and it was kind of hurting him.”

Alyssa Nicole Funari, 17, and Kaylynn Ashley Gilbert, 17, drove up and parked near the store. Funari got out of the car to go into the shop, saw the unfolding scenario, returned to the car to fetch her friend’s phone and begin recording from a different angle. Funari told the court, “He looked like he was fighting to breathe.” She saw his eyes rolling back in his head. “If he were held down much longer, he wouldn’t live.”

Asked if it was painful for her to describe the incident, Funari stated, “It was difficult because I felt there really wasn’t anything I could do as a bystander. The highest power was there and I felt I was failing - like, failing to do anything. Technically I could have done something, but I couldn’t do, physically, what I wanted to do” since the armed police restraining Floyd were ordering bystanders to stand back. She pointed out that Chauvin put his hand in his pocket and repositioned himself. His knee remained on Floyd’s neck “the entire time” until paramedics turned up and, finally, told the police to get off his inert body.  

Gilbert initially remained in the car but soon joined the bystanders. She testified that Floyd was “unconscious” and that Chauvin was “kind of digging in his knee...putting a lot of pressure on his neck that wasn’t needed.” When they arrived Floyd had been speaking but soon went silent. “His eyes were closed. He wasn’t moving.” She asked the policemen, who she said were “hostile” toward the witnesses, “Why are you guys still on top of him? He’s not doing anything wrong.”   

By the time the paramedics arrived in an ambulance, Gilbert said Floyd “looked purple and really limp... I was not sure if George Floyd was dead, but I had a gut feeling “he was.”  

Frazier summed up her feelings about this event when she said she cannot sleep at nights and has apologised to Floyd not trying to save his life. “When I look at George Floyd, I look at my dad, I look at my brothers, my cousins, my uncles — because they are all Black. I look at that and how Floyd could have been one of them.”

Other Black witnesses who also testified felt powerless to act. Two rang the police emergency number while a white police dispatcher who was also watching it via cameras reported it to her superior. Nothing was done to end the outrage.

While the three elder girls were identified by their names, none of the four were shown while testifying, their voices often breaking when they spoke of Floyd’s public death.  

The girls are heroines because they did not flee. They are Black and have probably seen or heard about the brutal behaviour of white police toward Black men. Frazier and Funari decided to record the scene since they feared they were witnessing a murder. They testified in the trial which they saw as important. They spoke out clearly and concisely and did not flinch despite their ages and the widely televised occasion.  

They are heroines also because, being Black, they are well aware that Black youths are subjected to harassment and harm at the hands of largely white police officers who are not held accountable. The girls know they could be targeted by police officers or others seeking to punish them for speaking out.

They have to be courageous because the images of George Floyd, a man they did not know, dying in front of their eyes will remain with them for a long time, perhaps, throughout their lives. They are courageous because they are girls and doubly at risk of reprisals. Nevertheless, the girls stayed and recorded what happened to Floyd because they hoped their video and personal testimony could make a difference to their oppressed community.  

Floyd was arrested while sitting in his parked car with two men outside Cup Foods. He went into the shop to buy cigarettes and the cashier believed he had paid with a counterfeit $20 note.

Employees went to the car and asked Floyd to return the cigarettes. When he refused, they called the police. Two officers, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane arrived, consulted with the shop, ordered Floyd out of the car, handcuffed him and put him in their police cruiser where he begged to be set free and resisted as best he could with his hands behind his back.  

Senior cop Chauvin, and Tou Thao arrived several minutes later while Floyd continued to

resist. He exited or was dragged by Chauvin out of the car and thrust face down on the pavement.  

Kueng and Lane joined Chauvin in holding down Floyd, while Tou Thao paced back and forth, preventing bystanders from intervening and threatening them as they shouted protests.

Lieutenant Richard Zimmerman, the most senior officer in the Minneapolis police department, also took an uncompromising, courageous line. He flatly rejected the use of force against Floyd, saying it was “uncalled for” and “totally unnecessary” as someone who is handcuffed cannot pose a threat to arresting officers. He said if a suspect is prone on the ground with his hands behind his back, a knee on a person’s neck “could kill him.”  As soon as Floyd calmed down he should have been lifted up instead of being held down in the deadly prone position.

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