A bird's eye view shows George Floyd's memorial at 38th and Chicago following a candlelit vigil on Sunday, March 28, 2021.
The memorial for George Floyd at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue sits empty following a candlelit vigil on Sunday, March 28, 2021. Credit: Ben Hovland | Sahan Journal

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On the second day of Derek Chauvin’s trial for the murder of George Floyd, the most powerful testimony came from children.

Three high school juniors and a second grader, trying to purchase snacks and a cord to play music in the car, witnessed Chauvin, then a Minneapolis police officer, using his knee to pin Floyd’s neck to the ground outside of Cup Foods. The teenagers recorded the incident on their phones. They heard Floyd call out for help. They saw a firefighter arriving on the scene and demanding a pulse check. And they heard when Floyd stopped speaking and appeared to lose consciousness. 

In recent months, state legislators have debated whether discussing police violence with children is appropriate inside the state’s classrooms. Specifically, they’ve questioned the use of picture books to address this difficult subject. But the testimony from kids too young to be seen on camera provided a wrenching reminder that children have not been shielded from witnessing brutality.

All four young people—three now high school seniors, one in third grade—took the witness stand on Tuesday. Here’s how they witnessed the killing of George Floyd, in their own words.

These accounts come from trial testimony in Hennepin County District Court on March 30. Questions from the lawyers in the case have been removed: What’s presented here are the children’s words.

Darnella Frazier, 18, high school senior: ‘He cried for his mom. He was in pain. It seemed like he knew, it seemed like he knew it was over for him’

Darnella was still 17 the night of May 25, when she walked her 9-year-old cousin to Cup Foods. She pulled out her cell phone and started recording when she saw a police officer kneeling on a man’s neck outside the store. Her video quickly went viral.

I was taking her to get some snacks.

I see a man on the ground. And I see a cop, kneeling down on him. 

A man terrified, scared, begging for his life. It wasn’t right. He was suffering. He was in pain.

I pulled out my phone. Recording, capturing what I was seeing.

I heard George Floyd saying, I can’t breathe. Please. Get off of me. I can’t breathe. He cried for his mom. He was in pain. It seemed like he knew, it seemed like he knew it was over for him. He was terrified. He was suffering. This was a cry for help, definitely.

[identifying photos] This was the officer that was kneeling on George Floyd’s neck. This is a friend I went to school with, Alyssa. I know some of the workers because I’ve lived there for a while.

I would say everyone was reacting multiple different ways from what they were seeing, which—it wasn’t right. We all knew it wasn’t right.

I heard George Floyd saying, I can’t breathe. Please. Get off of me. I can’t breathe. He cried for his mom. He was in pain. It seemed like he knew, it seemed like he knew it was over for him. He was terrified. He was suffering. This was a cry for help.

Darnella Frazier

I heard them say, Get off of him, you’re hurting him, he can’t breathe, he’s not moving. But anytime someone tried to get close, they were defensive. So we couldn’t even get close. You’re hurting him, are you enjoying this, he can’t breathe, he’s not moving, his nose is bleeding, you’re a bum. Pretty much words around that category.

He was laying down on the ground, restrained. It didn’t look like he could move much but his head.

[Chauvin’s] knee was kneeling on his neck. There was two other officers holding him down, as well.

He was stating that he was in pain. He said his neck, his back, everything hurts. I can’t breathe. Mom. He said, I would get up if I could. Something around that. I wouldn’t say that’s his exact words. Pretty much he was saying how much in pain he was. He couldn’t breathe.

[The firefighter who arrived on the scene] asked them to check his pulse. [Chauvin] remained kneeling on his neck. And she asked multiple times, not just once.

They wouldn’t even let us get close. They were quick to pull out mace. Officer [Tou] Thao and Chauvin. They put their hands on their mace. I can’t remember if they actually pointed it at us, but they definitely put their hand on the mace and we all got back.

I felt like I was in danger when he did that. He rubbed me the wrong way. I didn’t understand why they would do that. What we did to make them do that. That’s why I felt threatened. I didn’t understand why the mace was even needed at all.

He just stared at us, looked at us. He had this cold look, heartless. He didn’t care. It seemed as if he didn’t care what we were saying. It didn’t change anything he was doing.

The ambulance person had to actually tell him to lift up. He checked his pulse first while Chauvin’s knee still remained on George Floyd’s neck. The paramedic did a motion, like get up. Telling him, basically, to remove his knee. 

His knee was still there. Even when they came. Even at the end. Even unresponsive.

He just stared at us, looked at us. He had this cold look, heartless. He didn’t care. It seemed as if he didn’t care what we were saying. It didn’t change anything he was doing.

darnella Frazier

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 have a Black father, I have a Black brother, I have Black friends. And I look at that, and I look at how that could have been one of them. It’s been nights I stayed up apologizing, apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more, and not physically interacting, and not saving his life.

But it’s not what I should have done. It’s what he should have done.

Judeah, 9, third grade, Darnella’s cousin: ‘They asked him nicely to get off of him. He still stayed on him.’

I saw the officer put a knee on the neck of George Floyd.

The ambulance had to push him off of him. They asked him nicely to get off of him. He still stayed on him. They just had to get him off of him.

I was sad and kind of mad. Cause it felt like he was stopping his breathing, and kind of hurting him.

Kaylynn, 17, high school senior: ‘I didn’t know what was going to happen. I was scared of Chauvin’

I just want the truth to come out.

Me and Alyssa were going to get snacks and an aux cord for the radio. We drove there. 

We hear George Floyd’s voice, yelling out for his mom and saying he can’t breathe. We see three officers on top of George Floyd.

She pulled over and she asked if she should record it, and she didn’t have a phone at the time, so she took my phone and recorded it. She told me to stay in the car just in case anything happened. We didn’t know what was going on. 

I could kind of hear what was going on. I don’t specifically remember what was said. But I do remember hearing voices. I heard George Floyd yelling still, saying he can’t breathe. And then I heard witnesses that were there, saying he was unresponsive. And that’s when I started hearing voices getting louder.

It sounded serious. Just the way everyone sounded. I got out of the car, and I walked up, and that’s when I saw George Floyd unconscious. And Derek on his neck.

He wasn’t talking anymore. And when we pulled up, he was talking. His eyes were closed. He wasn’t moving.

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 have a Black father, I have a Black brother, I have Black friends. And I look at that, and I look at how that could have been one of them. It’s been nights I stayed up apologizing, apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more, and not physically interacting, and not saving his life.

Darnella Frazier

I saw [Chauvin] kind of digging his knee into his neck more. He was putting a lot of pressure on his neck that wasn’t needed.

[I heard] the witnesses telling him to check for a pulse.

I asked, Why are you guys still on top of him? He’s not doing anything wrong. He was handcuffed.

They were really hostile. Officer Thao’s voice was really angry. 

He pushed one of the witnesses there onto the sidewalk. They were just using their voice.

[Chauvin] was digging his knee into George Floyd’s neck. He did grab his mace and started shaking it at us.

I didn’t know what was going to happen. I was scared of Chauvin.

The ambulance pulled up and Derek was still on his neck. The ambulance people had to tell him, signal him to get up.

[George Floyd] looked kind of like purple. Like he wasn’t getting enough circulation. He was really limp.

I didn’t know for sure if George Floyd was dead until after the fact. But I had a gut feeling.

Alyssa Funari, 18, high school senior: ‘I slowly knew that if he were to be held down much longer he wouldn’t live’

I was going to the corner store to get an aux cord for my car. Like a cord to play music on the radio. I drove my grandfather’s vehicle. I had seen that there were some police cars. I was just looking for somewhere to park.

I told my friend to stay in the car because I didn’t really know what was going on and I originally was just still going in to get a charger, or an aux cord. So I got out the car and started walking towards the store.

Right before I walked in the door, I saw there was four police officers and George outside. The Black male on the ground. There was already a couple bystanders there, and I just heard some people talking, to let him up and just to stay calm. Talking to George. 

I heard him say he couldn’t breathe and that his stomach hurt and that he wanted his mom. I knew initially that there was something wrong, so I started recording. A lot of people looked in distress on the sidewalk, and George was in distress.

I could see that he was being held to the ground. I saw that Derek had his knee on his neck, and two other officers had his body pinned down. They were holding him down, the lower half of his body.

He looked like he was struggling at first, and he looked distressed and he looked like he was fighting to breathe. He was struggling with his ability to breathe. He was focused on trying to breathe. At first he was vocal, and he got less vocal. You could tell he was talking with smaller and smaller breaths. And he’d spit a little when he’d talk, and he’d try to move his head because he was uncomfortable.

I slowly knew that if he were to be held down much longer he wouldn’t live. Because you could see in his face that he was slowly not being able to breathe. His eyes were rolling back. At one point he just kind of lay there.

It was difficult because I felt like there wasn’t really anything I could do as a bystander. And I felt like I was failing him. Because I was there. And technically I could have did something, but I couldn’t really do anything physically what I wanted to do. There was another police officer kind of like pushing the crowd back, making sure everyone was on the sidewalk and didn’t get close.

[Chauvin’s] knee remained on him the entire time until paramedics came.

Most of the time I saw him staring at George. I didn’t really see him take his eyes off of him for the most part. At one point I saw him put more and more weight onto him. I saw his back foot or leg lift off the ground and his hands go in his pocket. I kind of saw him move his knee down more, made little movements. Down into Mr. Floyd’s neck.

It was difficult because I felt like there wasn’t really anything I could do as a bystander. And I felt like I was failing him. Because I was there. And technically I could have did something, but I couldn’t really do anything physically what I wanted to do.

Alyssa funari

I was recording and I was telling him to get off of him, and I was expressing that I was upset. He wasn’t able to breathe. And I felt like they weren’t doing what they were supposed to be doing.

I knew time was running out, or that it had already. That he was going to die.

At that point I kind of felt like all I could do was catch what was going on with the camera. It felt really like a lot to take in at first. I almost walked away at first because it was a lot to watch, but I knew that it was wrong, and I couldn’t just walk away even though I couldn’t do anything about it.

I kind of just felt emotionally numb about it. I didn’t run to the internet or anything. I kind of just kept to myself, try to go on with my day and remember what I really came there for.

I still haven’t been there to this day. I don’t want to be reminded.

Sahan Journal has withheld the last names of the minors who testified.

Becky Z. Dernbach

Becky Z. Dernbach is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.