As a year of global turbulence and hardship, 2020 was particularly difficult for people of color. Decades-long injustices, rooted in centuries-long histories of abuse and trauma, are suddenly at the forefront of worldwide politics and news, shedding mainstream light on many issues for the first time since the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.
While the events of 2020 brought attention to the entrenched nature of systemic racism and inequality plaguing our country, it took too many lives lost to realize this. While those in marginalized communities continue to fight for survival and basic human rights, it is necessary to memorialize the innocent people taken away from us in the midst of that struggle so that we may find ways to change this reality in the future.
On May 25, George Floyd became a name known to almost every American. The 46-year-old from Minneapolis was arrested when a convenience store employee called about a fake $20 dollar bill that was allegedly being used by Floyd, a prevalent leader in the community. The arresting officers, led by Derek Chauvin, proceeded to handcuff Floyd and force him on to the ground while their guns were drawn.
Chauvin then found the need to put his knee on Floyd’s neck, disregarding the distressed cries from Floyd screaming, “I can’t breathe.” After close to nine agonizing minutes, Floyd succumbed to asphyxiation, becoming another victim of police brutality against Black men and sparking outrage everywhere. Protests were widespread across the nation, and Americans are still fighting for justice for George Floyd’s murder.
On March 13 in Louisville, Kentucky, three Louisville Metro plainclothes officers, Jonathan Mattingly, Brett Hankison, and Myles Cosgrove, entered the apartment of Breonna Taylor on a drug warrant and fatally shot Taylor in her sleep. According to the officers, Taylor’s boyfriend Kenneth Walker was involved in a drug ring, and her apartment was often used to conceal these drugs. However, an ensuing investigation proved these allegations to be false; no drugs were ever found in Taylor’s apartment.
People took to social media and the streets to express their anger about the lack of justice for Breonna Taylor, who became a symbol for the Black Lives Matter movement. After almost six months, Hankison was finally charged, not with murder but rather with the destruction of property and wanton endangerment by shooting into the wall. This proved a cover-up by the police department, which included blatant lies about the injuries sustained by Taylor and the manner in which the police officers entered the apartment.
2020 brought new insight into the case of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old African American male living in Aurora, Colorado who “looked suspicious” while walking home from the grocery store on August 30, 2019. On the night in question, police officers stopped the unarmed, innocent man and attempted to arrest him. McClain resisted arrest, which caused the officers, Nathan Woodyard, Jason Rosenblatt, and Randy Roedema, to restrain him with a carotid artery chokehold and inject him with ketamine.
McClain, who vomited several times while put in the chokehold, had a heart attack en route to the hospital and passed away a few days later. The case did not receive national attention until June 2020, when Colorado Governor Jared Polis reopened an investigation into the case following a social media outcry. Photos discovered in the investigation led to firings of the officers who killed McClain, but they all have yet to be officially charged with any crimes.
On February 23, Brunswick, Georgia resident Ahmaud Arbery was jogging when three white men claimed to recognize him as the suspect in a series of recent local robberies. The men, father-and-son pair Gregory and Travis McMichael and their neighbor William Bryan, took it upon themselves to chase Arbery in their vehicles until, finally, Travis shot the unarmed jogger three times with a pistol, killing him. Bryan and the McMichaels spent months walking free, even though video footage of the incident clearly depicted the murder, which caused national outrage.
Finally, in May, the McMichaels were charged with aggravated assault and murder. The trial is currently ongoing. Most recently, the McMichaels’ defense attorneys are petitioning for the court not to refer to Arbery as the “victim,” on the basis that this would be damaging to their defense case.
Following the brutal killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and compounded by the murders of Ahmaud Arbery and Elijah McClain (as well as the new details in the latter’s case), among many others, the Black Lives Matter movement became one of the year’s most influential movements. People of color all over America are tired of systemic police brutality and double standards that persist to date. What started as a movement specific to the atrocities of police brutality has become a way to expose every form of racism and injustice experienced by people of color. Protests and riots erupted in every major American city in 2020, with the intent of being largely peaceful.
However, these peaceful protests, some of which did result in violence, were met with armed forces who were sent by President Trump, who had called the protesters “thugs.” The clashes between the National Guard and protestors led to a majority of the violence that stemmed to demand justice for Breonna Taylor. While the protests have largely died down, the effects of BLM’s calls to action have not.
17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse from Illinois was a huge proponent of the Blue Lives Matter movement, a direct opposition of the Black Lives Matter movement. He worshipped guns, often posing with them in pictures. On August 25, however, he took this veneration to the extreme. Rittenhouse drove miles and brought a rifle to the mass protests that were happening in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
While there, he shot three African-Americans, two of whom died. He was charged with murder and attempted murder, though he has pled not guilty to all charges. Many Trump loyalists and figures in the Trump administration have come out and supported Rittenhouse, as well.
While mainstream media has heavily focused around the injustices suffered by the Black community, just as many instances of inequality occurred with Hispanics and immigrants in 2020. In February, for example, an ICE agent shot a Hispanic man in the face while attempting to administer a warrant. In detention centers in El Paso, ICE agents are systematically sexually assaulting detainees.
There are almost no investigations into the abuses as well, with less than 1 percent of accusations being investigated in the past four years. ICE, however, has stated that it will not assume any responsiblity for any sexual abuse that occurs in its centers. This blatant abuse of power will not change unless the barbaric agency goes through some serious reorganization or is abolished in its entirety, which is a possibility with the new change in administration.
Months after the deadly virus was first introduced to the United States, scientists began to notice a frightening trend: people of color are much more likely to contract and die from the virus. People of color, who have continuously been discriminated against in terms of living in poverty and receiving adequate healthcare, are now suffering new and deadly effects of the same systemic racism which has been lowering their immune systems for years, which includes redlining and restrictions of access to healthcare. In addition, Black-owned businesses are suffering more financially during this pandemic, intensifying and perpetuating the cycle of poverty.
Loss of Chadwick Boseman and Kobe Bryant
This year we felt the loss of many Black lives, and this pain was amplified by the loss of two inspiring Black legends. First in January 2020 came the death of Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven other individuals in a horrific helicopter accident. One of the highest achieving and arguably best American basketball players of all time, Bryant served as a role model for many Black people, proving that any child, regardless of race, could become a household name.
Similarly, Chadwick Boseman passed away in August after a battle with cancer. Being the first high-profile Black Marvel superhero, Boseman inspired many children and adults alike. He showed how times were changing and provided a superhero that children of color could look towards and aspire to be. His sudden death caused a lot of grieving in the Back Panther fandom.
One of the most influential women to ever be in politics, Kamala Harris proved to be a role model for people of color everywhere. Harris is the first Black vice president, first South Asian vice president and first vice president to graduate from a historically Black university, Howard University.
After a year that exemplifies the suffering and injustices that people of color endure, Kamala Harris’s ascendance proves that, slowly, things are changing. She will be someone for all people of color and women of color to look up to for at least the next few years to come. There is hope that Harris, along with President Joe Biden, will work towards aiding communities of color and stopping police brutality.
No longer are the injustices that Black people and people of color face hidden under the guise of fairness. No more is systemic racism within the criminal justice system concealed. After all the lives brutally taken from us this past year, people throughout the country are fighting harder than ever to address these atrocities. While the protests and petitions are a great step in the right direction, they are not enough.
We need to continue fighting, continue voting the right people into office, continue reopening cases where justice was not served. We cannot let these injustices be forgotten again like they have been so many times in the past.