Thanks, Pulitzer Board for a deserved journalism award; a cue for Africa?

BY: By Ajoa Yeboah-Afari

It was so uplifting, so right, to learn last week that the Pulitzer Prize Board, in charge of the prestigious journalism awards in America, has given a special award to Darnella Frazier, the teenager who filmed the fiendish murder of George Floyd by Minnesota policeman Derek Chauvin.

But shouldn’t Africa, African organisations and institutions, too, be thinking of taking a cue from the Pulitzer?

As reported by USA Today Ms Frazier “was awarded a 2021 Pulitzer Prize Special Citation” last Friday, June 11 for “courageously recording the murder of George Floyd, a video that spurred the protests against police brutality around the world, highlighting the crucial role of citizens in journalists’ quest for truth and justice,” the Pulitzer Prize Board stated.

The award reportedly comes with a monetary prize of $15,000.

“Frazier’s video was a key piece of evidence in the trial from opening statements through closing arguments.”

People everywhere were enabled to see on their mobile phones the agonizing virtually freeze-frame image of the killing of Floyd by officer Chauvin on a Minnesota city pavement a year ago.

Who can forget that chilling video of Chauvin, hand inexplicably in pocket, kneeling on Floyd’s neck for almost ten minutes, in full view of passers-by, with a stony expression, deaf to his victim’s desperate cries of “I can’t breathe”?

In my opinion the Pulitzer award should inspire recognition by Africa of Darnella’s remarkable role in recording the Floyd murder, through an AU award for her.

Better still, it could be a joint honour named for Darnella and Floyd.

If the idea of Africa honouring Darnella seems far-fetched, it is recalled that last year, Africans joined people worldwide to demonstrate their solidarity with Floyd, and their fury.

No wonder that Minnesota police chief, Medaria Arrandondo, immediately sacked Chauvin and his wife, Kellie, reportedly filed for divorce.

Indeed, she released a statement expressing her condolences to the Floyd family.

No wonder the jury on April 20, this year, found Chauvin guilty on all the charges, as global audiences watching the closing proceedings with bated breath, burst into spontaneous, ecstatic jubilation.

But what if the incriminating, telltale video had not existed?

What if there had been nobody who had the presence of mind to tape that horrific nine plus minutes of a murder in plain sight of the community, bystanders – and the world?

Left to Chauvin and his accomplices alone, the policemen who were on duty with him that fateful day, the only record of what was clearly a murder would have been the fictional report they filed which read, as cited by a writer in The Week magazine of the UK:

“The short police report stated merely that officers had responded to a ‘forgery in progress’ and that the suspect had ‘physically resisted’. ‘Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering from medical distress,’ it continued. ‘Officers called for an ambulance. At no time were weapons of any type used. No officers were injured.’”

They dared write that “at no time were weapons of any type used”! But thanks to the quick thinking of the teenager, the world now knows that there was a ‘weapon’: Chauvin’s knee.

For the record, on that day, May 25, 2020, as the then 17-year old Darnella and her 9-year old cousin were going to the same store where Mr. Floyd had been accused of trying to make a payment with counterfeit 20-dollar note, leading to the store attendant calling the police.

When she saw a man lying on the ground, near the store, with the policeman’s knee on his neck, and in obvious distress, she didn’t hesitate, even as she and other bystanders were pleading in vain with Chauvin to release Floyd, she pressed ‘Record’ on her smart phone.

Equally importantly, she posted what she had recorded on Facebook.

The rest, as the saying goes, is history.

She wept when she testified at Chauvin’s trial in March, at the memory of the scene, saying “that when she looked at Floyd, she saw her black relatives and friends. ‘That could’ve been one of them’.”

It is no exaggeration to say that the Floyd killing took centre stage all over the world, generating protests against police brutality and racism; and Africa was no exception.

On May 29, the France 24 channel reported that the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, was very quick to react to Floyd's death, calling it a "murder".

Here in Ghana, too, there was solidarity, not forgetting that President Nana Akufo-Addo, was one of the first heads of state to condemn the murder in a Twitter message on June 1, 2020.

If at the time of the protests, few people knew how evidence of the murder came to be a disturbing internet sensation, now we know who the world should thank, a quick-witted teenager.

The Pulitzer Prize Board has shown the way; one or two U S organisations, too, have reportedly honoured Darnella.

My question again: How is Africa showing its appreciation?

Are the condemnations enough?

It seems to me that it would not be out of place for Africa, too, to demonstrate its appreciation of Darnella’s seemingly divinely inspired singular action.

It has led to so much global impact, including boosting the ‘Black Lives Matter’ campaign.

Surely, Darnella should have something tangible from the mother continent, at the very least a citation, for her records.

Notably, in an Opinion piece, English professor Syreeta McFadden wrote: “Frazier’s Pulitzer Prize is significant because, in more than a century, the board has never recognised an act of journalism conducted without the imprimatur of a newsroom.”

Well, maybe the Ghana Journalists Association will take the lead and consider a fitting recognition.

Darnella Frazier is a phenomenal accidental ‘citizen journalist’, who happens to be African-American and therefore she’s part of the African family tree.

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