Candace Owens, the black conservative commentator, was right when she said George Floyd is no hero. It’s not him. But our digital age has certainly made him a martyr. It was cellphone video captured by 17-year-old high school student Darnella Frazier that served as indisputable evidence of Floyd’s slaughter and sparked the process of turning a struggling middle-aged addict with a prison sentence into a symbol, a touchstone. an icon, his name is recited by children in classrooms, his face painted on city walls in colorful homage, his soul is prayed for in churches, synagogues and mosques around the world. We almost didn’t have to wait for the wheel of justice to turn. Derek Chauvin’s fate was sealed, at least in the court of public opinion, the moment Frazier trained her camera on him and confirmed the cellphone camera as society’s newest surveillance tool, one capable of uncovering all manner of injustices, be it an overzealous security guard at a strip club or a police officer committing murder on a Minneapolis street.
As her name got out, Frazier was also being hailed for her courage, her own GoFundMe page raising over half a million dollars to offer “peace and healing” for the trauma caused by what she experienced and for what she did The enduring trauma was caused by the unique form of insults and threats of the digital age, which she had to endure for a long time. “It was nights that I apologized to George Floyd and apologized for not doing more,” she said, “and not physically interacting and not saving his life.” And what a modern thought it is that the camera was somehow an agent of crime. In the age of cyber warriors, it’s hard to tell the truth.
But let’s be clear: Floyd wasn’t playing the hero here. In fact, brutal action was taken against him. And Frazier’s presence at that historic moment was accidental. She was there to accompany her nine-year-old cousin, who wanted snacks from Cup Foods but was too young to go alone. It took her presence of mind to keep her cellphone camera on the crime scene as she along with a small crowd on the sidewalk berated the police for their actions. And it took her steely endurance to keep the camera trained on her as she watched a man die before her eyes.
While it was Floyd’s still image that later went viral, it was the video itself, posted to Facebook, that changed the world. Without the cell phone at her disposal, Frazier and the other viewers could only have described what they saw, and memory, at best a subjective tool for finding the truth, all too often falls victim to the dictates of power. That’s because retrieving witnesses to a crime must first go through a hierarchy of credibility, a hierarchy that enhances or demeans witness testimony according to cultural characteristics such as race, gender, economic standing, authority, presentation, expressiveness, and personality. Given all of this, what are the odds that a hypothetical pre-cellular phone Darnella Frazier, who was recalling a judge or jury on the fatal assault she saw committed on a hypothetical George Floyd, over the testimony of a white male Law enforcement officers like Derek Chauvin and the blue wall of silence erected to protect him?
“When it comes to abuse of power, at least in public space, you can no longer hide. The camera – any camera – will always be there to remember you.”
We are greeted every day by a barrage of images, many of which are manipulated and distorted to make us feel certain emotions and do certain things, like spending unlimited money and believing in implausible conspiracies. But while we’ve become increasingly suspicious of the veracity of the image, unedited raw video still has the quality of a recording, at least for now. Raw video captured by a mere bystander – not a professional, not an activist with an agenda – who happened to arrive at the scene and chronicled a violent injustice committed in her presence is even more credible, more reliable, since our response assumes that there is no pretense or ego, no fashion or framing, no interpretive gaze or wanton finger pointing. Only the truth.
When British photojournalist George Rodger arrived at the Bergen-Belsen death camp on assignment in Germany in 1945 – as the first photographer to arrive there – he was ashamed to look through his viewfinder to “compose thousands of Jewish corpses into beautiful photographic compositions,” and refused felt like reporting on the war and its aftermath. But a camera held by an innocent, the casual photojournalist that has become a hallmark of our times, is another matter entirely. In Darnella Frazier’s hands, the video becomes merely a transmission what happened then to our eyes now when we open it from our inbox, watch it on cable TV, or watch it from a post we found on our own phones. All this means that one can no longer hide from abuse of power, at least in public space. The camera-any camera– will always be there to remember you.
The video made by Frazier offers an interesting study. For comparison, first consider how Walter Scott, a 50-year-old African American man, was pulled over by a North Charleston, South Carolina police officer in 2015 for having a busted taillight. Scott, fearing arrest, fled on foot, and Officer Michael Slager ran after him. It was fairly early in the morning, and while Scott’s car was parked in the parking lot of an auto parts store, he had run behind a metal fence near the back of a pawn shop where there seemed to be no one to be seen, Slager on his right behind in pursuit.
But it turned out that there was someone present. Feidin Santana, a Dominican barber on his way to work, noticed the commotion, picked up his phone and recorded the entire scene. Video captured by Santana shows Slager shooting Scott eight times in the back, killing him. The officer then approaches Scott’s body, checks his pulse, and eventually runs to retrieve his taser and place it near the crime scene. This was done to fit the lie that Scott had made an effort to snatch it from him and that Slager had been forced to kill him in self-defense. “Shots fired and the subject is dead,” Slager says into his radio. “He grabbed my taser.”
“One cannot read this compelling image, moving or still, without concluding that George Floyd’s death is neither surprising nor unusual. Its power lies in its ordinariness”
In contrast, Darnella Frazier’s video of George Floyd’s death has no apparent narrative. It doesn’t tell a clear story. It’s just a single scene, showing a white cop holding his knee on the neck of a black man lying prone on the sidewalk, his head crammed next to the right rear tire of the squad car. The officer has his hand in his pocket and his sunglasses on his head while casually looking away. But here’s the key: While it’s a single scene, the video lasts nine minutes and twenty-nine seconds.
No moral person can escape the horrid awkwardness of viewing, the uneasy feeling that even voyeuristic detachment cannot protect one from some degree of responsibility for what one sees. When you look at it, you even feel like you’re guilty of a crime yourself – which we all are in a way, if you believe in the spirit of the collective. It even has something akin to a crucifixion, a long, slow, painful ending performed in public, with onlookers both official and unofficial, and a common cry from the dying — Christ for his “father,” Floyd for his recently departed “Mummy”.
Where the film of the Walter Scott shooting tells a story, the killing happens in an instant. But with Floyd, killing is the story, and while elapsed time is essential to its power, its focus on a single, unchanging scene also gives it the quality of an iconic still photograph or even a sculpture. A man has his knee on another man’s neck. This man is dying. The two could have been carved from Carrara marble and displayed in a museum or public square, a bitingly crooked rendition of the Pieta, with the Madonna and Child replaced by the executioner and his booty. It doesn’t matter who they really are – George Floyd and Derek Chauvin – just that they are symbolic of a greater whole. And symbolism is critical to the reaction the scene elicits, because one cannot read this arresting image, moving or still, without concluding that George Floyd’s death is neither surprising nor unusual. Its power lies in its ordinariness. It’s a rendering of the whole sad relationship between black and white in America and, even more so, the whole perverse relationship between the powerful and the powerless around the world. In fact, no picture has been available since the June 5, 1989 confrontation between a lone man carrying shopping bags and a parade of tanks – “tank man,” as he was nicknamed since his identity was never discovered – amid the heat of Tiananmen Square protests in China found so much international resonance.
excerpt from Seen and Invisible: Technology, Social Media, and the Fight for Racial Justice by Marc Lamont Hill and Todd Brewster. Copyright © 2022. Available from Atria Books, an imprint of Simon and Schuster.
https://www.thedailybeast.com/a-cellphone-was-the-only-hero-at-george-floyds-murder?source=articles&via=rss A cell phone was the only hero in the murder of George Floyd