What Do You Say To a Nine-Year-Old Who Has Watched Someone Die?

What Do You Say To a Nine-Year-Old Who Has Watched Someone Die?
Photo:Jim Mone (AP)

On the second day of the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who is being charged with the murder of George Floyd, four children and teenagers who witnessed Floyd’s death were called to testify. One of them, Darnella Frazier, was only 17 years old when she took the video of Chauvin pinning down Floyd that would later go viral. Although the judge ruled that video of the witnesses would be restricted because of their ages, the audio of their testimonies was still played in the courtroom. Even just reading their testimonies is utterly devastating.

Frazier had been walking to the corner store with her younger cousin on the late May day when she saw a man on the ground “and a cop kneeling down on him.” “It wasn’t right. He was suffering. He was in pain. He cried for his mom.” In the audio of Frazier’s testimony, she could be heard crying. “It seemed like he knew. It seemed like he knew it was over for him,” she said.

“When I look at George Floyd, I look at my dad. I look at my brothers, I look at my cousins, my uncles, because they are all Black… I look at how that could have been one of them.”

“It’s been nights I’ve stayed up apologizing and apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more and not physically interacting and not saving his life,” Frazier continued. “[But] it’s not what I should have done. It’s what [Chauvin] should have done.”

Frazier’s cousin Judeah Reynolds, who is only nine years old, also briefly testified about seeing Chauvin put his knee “on the neck of George Floyd.” When asked how she felt about what she witnessed, she said she was “sad and kind of mad,” because “it feel like [Chauvin] was stopping his breathing and it was kind of like hurting him.”

Two other teenage girls who witnessed Chauvin pinning down Floyd while stopping at the store to get an auxiliary cord also testified on Tuesday. One, Kaylynn Gilbert, said that when they pulled up to the store they could “hear George Floyd’s voice yelling out for his mom and saying he can’t breathe.” “I got out of the car and walked up, and that’s when I saw George Floyd unconscious,” Gilbert said. “He wasn’t talking anymore, and he was talking when we pulled up.”

The other girl, Alyssa Funari, recorded three videos of the incident with her friend’s phone. “He looked like he was fighting to breathe,” Funari said. “I slowly knew that if he were to be held down much longer he wouldn’t live.” Funari, who also cried during her testimony, added that she felt like she was failing because she wanted to intervene but couldn’t because another officer was pushing the crowd back. As Chauvin continued to hold down Floyd, Funari said “I saw him put more and more weight on him. I saw his leg lift off the ground and his hands go in his pocket.”

Once Floyd had stopped struggling against Chauvin, Funari knew “that he was dead, or not breathing.” “At that point, I felt all I could do was show everything that was going on with the camera.” During redirect examination, Funari said that she was angry. “I was upset because there was nothing we could do except watch them take a life in front of our eyes.”

No person should ever have to watch someone die in front of them, and yet that is the reality for countless Black children who have witnessed law enforcement officers hurt or even kill their loved ones, neighbors, even strangers. It’s no secret that Black children are never allowed innocence, even in death, but it’s still heartbreaking to be reminded of how early the trauma of racism begins to erode our well-being and shorten our lives.

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