The testimony of an 18-year-old in the trial of the White police officer charged in the killing of George Floyd is a reminder of the prominent role that young people have played — and continue to play — in drawing attention to police violence against Black people.

Darnella Frazier testified Tuesday — sometimes through tears — about seeing officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on the neck of Floyd, the Black man killed in the custody of Minneapolis police in May. A recording by Frazier, who was 17 at the time, went viral shortly after Floyd’s death, which led to nationwide protests against police brutality at a level previously unseen.

Prosecutor Jerry W. Blackwell asked Frazier how seeing Floyd’s death has affected her life.

“When I look at George Floyd, I look at my dad. I look at my brother. I look at my cousins, my uncles, because they are all Black,” she said after drawing a deep breath. “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.”

The witnesses, who were not shown on video because they were minors at the time of George Floyd's death, described the scene they witnessed. (The Washington Post)

Frazier is one of four witnesses allowed to testify off-camera because they are minors or were at the time of the incident. Her role in amplifying the experiences of Floyd is just one of many examples of young people — mostly people of color — advocating for significant change when it comes to racism in America.

Gen Z, a group that consist of teenagers and young adults in their early 20s, is more likely to believe that Black people are treated less fairly than Whites in the United States, a 2019 Pew Research Center survey found — a point that Frazier and other young people who saw Floyd’s death have articulated.

“It’s been nights I stayed up apologizing and apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more and not physically interacting and not saving his life,” she said.

“But it’s like, it’s not what I should have done — it’s what he should have done,” Frazier added, seemingly referring to Chauvin.

It was after George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch coordinator, was acquitted in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old high school student, that #BlackLivesMatter first became a hashtag on social media, amplified by young people wanting to draw attention to a criminal justice system that anti-racist activists say does not value Black people. The movement drew more national attention after the death of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old Black man, who was fatally shot by police officer Darren Wilson in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Mo.

College students and younger teens across the country took to the streets demanding that law enforcement and the judicial system treat the lives of Black people with value. This was long before Black Lives Matter became so popular after Floyd’s killing that more than 65 percent of adults expressed support for the movement. And this was long before interest in ending police violence against Black people became so widespread that hundreds of people filled the streets of Salt Lake City, Anchorage and Portland, Maine — places not known for having large populations of Black youths.

Several years later, it is still young people — and specifically Black and Latino young people — who are leading the fight against racism and police violence, Matthew Nelsen, a political science postdoctoral scholar at the University of Chicago, previously wrote for The Washington Post.

Speeches, emails and social media posts push individuals to recognize that recent instances of police brutality are not isolated but part of a long history connected, in many cases, to the emergence of slave patrols. Protesters are seeing the power of collective action as demonstrated by recent decisions by numerous cities, including Minneapolis, to dismantle the police.

The movement has diversified significantly since those early days. Older Americans, White Americans and rural Americans have joined young people in calling for more police accountability. Alicia Garza, one of the co-founders of Black Lives Matter, told me during the 2020 Aspen Ideas Festival that she was encouraged by those who have joined the young Black people in fighting for justice. But she said she hopes newcomers’ concern for the well-being of Black people goes beyond issues related to police violence in faraway communities.

“The question that I think I grapple with a lot in this moment is when we look at the trajectory and the history of Black Lives Matter — and also the embracing of it now — is that it really is up to us to make this a moment that we capitalize on,” she said. “And by capitalize, I don’t mean everybody slap ‘Black Lives Matter’ on your website or on a T-shirt and profit off of it. What I mean here is to make Black lives matter where you are.”

Young people are likely to continue to lead the fight against racism and police violence. As these teens and young adults enter careers and gain positions of power, there is likely to be great interest in seeing how they use their influence to implement policies, business practices and other standards that lead to less police brutality, increase the value of Black lives and move the country in the direction that they’ve advocated for since their youth.