'Begging for his life’: Teen who took viral George Floyd video cries at ex-officer’s trial

Protesters hold portraits of George Floyd on March 29, 2021, outside of the court building in Minneapolis.
Protesters hold portraits of George Floyd on March 29, 2021, outside of the court building in Minneapolis.PHOTO: NYTIMES
Witness Donald Williams answers questions on the second day of the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
Witness Donald Williams answers questions on the second day of the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.PHOTO: REUTERS

MINNEAPOLIS (REUTERS) – The Minneapolis teenager whose cellphone video of Derek Chauvin’s deadly arrest of George Floyd sparked worldwide protests began weeping as she was shown an image from the video at the former policeman’s murder trial on Tuesday (March 30).

Prosecutors have begun their case by calling several people who witnessed the arrest on May 25, 2020: a Minneapolis 911 dispatcher; a young woman who worked at the gas station across the street; a mixed martial arts fighter who was passing by.

During the witness testimony, prosecutors have played videos of the arrest to the jury taken from multiple angles, including the teenager’s video that shows Chauvin, who is white, pressing his knee into the neck of a dying Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, for about nine minutes.

The footage, which prosecutors say show excessive force, horrified people around the world and led to one of the largest protest movements seen in the United States in decades. Many have held up Floyd’s death as an example of the brutality they say is routinely doled out by US law enforcement in encounters with people of colour.

Lawyers for Chauvin, 45, say he followed his police training and is not guilty of the charges of second-degree murder, third-degree murder or second-degree manslaughter.

Here is some of the main testimony heard by the jury on Tuesday:

Darnella Frazier, eyewitness

Darnella Frazier, 18, was walking her nine-year-old cousin to buy some snacks at Cup Foods, where a worker had moments before accused Floyd of using a fake US$20 bill (S$27), when she saw police arresting Floyd outside and pulled out her cellphone.

“I see a man on the ground and I see a cop kneeling down on him,” Frazier told the jury, explaining why she first made sure her young cousin had safely gone inside the store, out of sight. “A man terrified, scared, begging for his life.”

Frazier lost her composure and her voice quavered when prosecutors brought up a still from her video, showing the moment when Chauvin, his knee on Floyd’s neck, appears to look directly into Frazier’s camera lens.

Chauvin’s lawyers have said that Chauvin was distracted from “the care” of Floyd by the angry bystanders that joined Frazier on the sidewalk. Prosecutors asked her whether she heard any bystanders threaten the police, and she said no.

“Would you describe yourselves as an unruly mob?” Jerry Blackwell, a prosecutor, asked her.

“No,” Frazier said, adding the only person she saw being violent was Chauvin, who she said appeared unflustered by the onlookers and the traffic passing behind him.

She was asked by both sides how producing the most famous record of Floyd’s death had changed her life, and she again spoke through tears.

“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,” she said.

She said she stayed up late apologising to Floyd for “not saving his life.”

“It’s not what I should have done,” she said, turning her attention back to Chauvin, who lawyers began to object to her answer, “it’s what he should have done.”

Minutes later, her young cousin took her place in the witness stand, saying in a small voice she recognised Chauvin as the man she saw kneeling on Floyd.

Donald Williams, eyewitness

Williams is a 33-year-old professional mixed martial arts fighter and father who can be heard on the videos of the arrest of Floyd screaming insults at Chauvin and demanding police check for Floyd’s pulse.

He told jurors he believed that Chauvin was using his knee in a “blood choke” on Floyd, a wrestling move to knock an opponent unconscious, and a “shimmy” move to tighten pressure on Floyd’s neck.


Witness Donald Williams answers questions on the second day of the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. PHOTO: REUTERS

“You can see his eyes slowly rolling back,” Williams said of Floyd. “You can see that he’s trying to gasp for air.”

A 911 call Williams made after the arrest was played to the jury. Williams dabbed his eyes with a white tissue as his distressed voice filled the room.

“I believe I witnessed a murder,” Williams told the jury. “So I felt I needed to call the police on the police.”

In a sometimes tense cross-examination, Eric Nelson, Chauvin’s lead lawyer, read aloud some of the obscene insults Williams hurled at Chauvin in the video.

“You call him a ‘tough guy’?” Nelson asked, demanding only a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. “You call him a ‘real man'?”

Williams looked over at Chauvin with a slight smile as each insult was read out.

“You call him a ‘bum’ at least 13 times?” Nelson continued.

“If that’s what you count in the video,” Williams replied, smiling again, “then that’s what you got: 13.”