5 feet away

A high school student who took a video, a brief history of technology, and a story of bravery. Also, 7 other things worth your time.

Darnella Frazier is 17 years old. She’s been called “the most influential filmmaker of the century.”

If you don’t recognize her name, Frazier is the young woman who first recorded and shared the video of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis two weeks ago. Her post has been viewed 1.7 million times — along with many millions more video views on other media.

Personally, I’ve only watched it once. That’s enough. More than enough.

I came across Frazier’s name because I’ve been trying to identify what’s different “this time.” There have been horrible incidents of racism seared into our memories before. We’ve all been aware of police brutality to some degree.

But the reaction to Floyd’s death, and all it symbolizes for so many people, has been transcendant and persistent.

We’ve had more than a week of demonstrations, in the biggest cities and even small towns. There’s been some violence and looting, no doubt, but I think it’s fair to say the overwhelming majority of demonstrators have been peaceful — vehement in a lot of cases, but peaceful.

So what’s different? I set out to answer that by comparing what happened now with the video of Michael Brown’s death in 2014, for example.

But, my mind was playing tricks on me. There was no video.

Nor was there one in the case of Trayvon Martin. There was a video of the death of James Crawford III, but it’s grainy, silent surveillance footage, released a month after the shooting.

A few years ago, Bijan Stephen wrote in Wired about what civil rights workers had to do during the 1960s to try to get news out to the world.

In short: phone calls to national organizations (careful to avoid long distance operators who might not put them through) volunteer report-takers, mimeographed write-ups, and the U.S. mail.

Eventually, as at Selma in 1965, it also involved news crews racing to the airport to deliver film canisters to New York, in time for the nightly newscasts.

The point is: technology evolves. I started to dig up statistics, but we all know this.

It’s just much easier now than even just a few years ago to record and share high-def video with the world. Everybody has a smartphone, mobile bandwidth is fast and reliable most of the time, and social media platforms have matured.

But there’s actually something more.

Because what makes the George Floyd video so searing, beyond the obvious fact that a man is being killed by the police, is its immediacy, its length (nearly nine minutes), and the intense emotion.

You don’t get that purely from technology. The technology is just the delivery system.

You get that from people being shocked and scared, and yet still having the presence of mind to take out a phone, hit record, and stand their ground. You get that from someone like Frazier.

By all accounts, this has been traumatizing for her.

A high school junior, Frazier had been walking to a store with her 9-year-old cousin when she came across the scene of Minneapolis police officers, including Derek Chauvin and others, restraining Floyd.

“I’m amazed she had the presence of mind to pull out her phone and record it,” her lawyer told a newspaper later. “But she’s dealing with a whole lot of psychological fallout from witnessing a terrible crime.”

She and her family are staying with friends. There’s a GoFund me for her that has raised over $400,000.

“I've seen him die,” she said a day after Floyd’s death. “And everybody's asking me how I feel. I don't know how to feel ... They killed this man and I was right there. I was five feet away.”

7 other things worth your time

  • Eighty percent of Americans say the country is “spiraling out of control” according to a new poll. By a 2 to 1 margin, they say they’re “more troubled by the actions of police in the killing of George Floyd than by violence at some protests.” (Wall Street Journal, $)

  • The Minneapolis city council voted to disband the city’s police department by a veto-proof margin. What that means in practice isn’t clear, as the council president said: "The idea of having no police department is certainly not in the short term.” (CNN)

  • A video producer for the NFL worked secretly with several players to create a video condeming racism and supporting Black Lives Matter. The producer said he expected to be fired, but instead NFL commissioner Roger Goodell adopted the message: “We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier, and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest.” Not mentioned: former QB Colin Kaepernick who started the “take a knee” protests. (New York Post)

  • Senator Mitt Romney joined protetsts over the weekend, former Secretary of State Colin Powell went on CNN to say he’ll work to defeat President Trump, and there were reports that former President George W. Bush might endorse Vice President Biden. Trump hit back hard on Twitter. (The Washington Times)

  • The GOP is working on a plan for a multi-city convention now that Charlotte, N.C. seems at least partially off the table. One benefit for Trump is that he’d likely be able to say that his reelection convention had the most attendees of any convention in history. (NBC News)

  • Legal scholars are urging Congress to close a gap in election law to prevent a situation they say is unlikely, but would be catastrophic. In short, there’s currently no clear way to resolve what happens if a state sends more than one competing slate of electoral votes—perhaps if there’s a dispute over voting by mail in a state where the governorship and legislature are controlled by different parties. (Roll Call)

  • A judge ruled last week that former New York Mets outfielder Lenny Dykstra can’t win a defamation suit he brought against a teammate, because his "reputation for unsportsmanlike conduct and bigotry is already so tarnished that it cannot be further injured." Exhibit A, so to speak: Dykstra’s autobiography, in which the judge said he portrays himself as “racist, misogynist, and anti-gay, as well as a sexual predator, a drug-abuser, a thief, and an embezzler.” (ESPN)

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