5 stories on social justice that shook 2020

2020 was a year unlike any other in U.S. history. Before we embark on 2021 and the promise that it brings, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s content curation desk is taking a look back at the most impactful stories of 2020 and their effects on Georgia and the rest of the nation. Today’s topic: Social justice

5. Breonna Taylor

Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency worker, was killed in March during a botched drug raid at her Louisville, Kentucky, apartment. Months after her shooting death, advocates and her family’s legal team pushed for the officers involved with the drug raid to face prosecution.

One of three Louisville police officers, Brett Hankison, was charged with wanton endangerment, which was unrelated to Taylor’s death. Her death went from virtually unknown to the general public in March to the subject of international outrage by the time a Kentucky grand jury reached its verdict Sept. 23.

Hankison’s charge and the absence of any charges for other officers who fired at Taylor during the incident led to many expressing disdain for the justice system. Shortly after the verdict, one of the grand jurors in the Taylor case said Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron never put forth an option to indict the police officers for murder in her fatal shooting, according to reports.

Taylor‘s family received a multimillion-dollar settlement after posing a wrongful death lawsuit against the city.

4. Social justice protests

Taylor was one of several fatal officer-involved incidents that sparked protests and demonstrations across the country. While they were peaceful displays in most cases, some resulted in violence and destruction in cities including Louisville, Minneapolis, where George Floyd’s arrest and death occurred, and Portland, Oregon. Demonstrators poured into Minneapolis streets for several nights to protest, and citizens in several other cities became engaged, making demands for justice for slain Black people at the hands of police and, in some cases, calls to defund American police forces.

According to data from the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data project, 25 Americans were killed while participating in protests in 2020. Eleven Americans were killed while participating in political demonstrations and another 14 died in other incidents linked to political unrest, according to the new data from the political monitoring nonprofit. Nine of the people killed during protests were demonstrators taking part in Black Lives Matter protests. Two were conservatives killed after pro-Trump “patriot rallies.” All but one were killed by fellow citizens.

Some have disputed the efficiency of the protests and questioned their presence while medical experts emphasized social distancing. The impact of these, at times, brutal demonstrations cannot be easily quantified, but federal legislation was proposed on police reform in June. However, the Senate and House did not come to a resolution.

3. Ahmaud Arbery

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, was shot and killed by two white men in coastal Georgia on Feb. 23. The men said they were pursuing him due to a recent robbery. For months, the men did not face charges until video of the tragic incident came to light.

An article by The New York Times called into question the former Glynn County district attorney’s indecision on prosecuting the two men involved, Gregory McMichael and his son, Travis McMichael. As media scrutiny and public outcry from lawmakers and celebrities increased, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation began its probe.

Police arrested the McMichaels on May 7 and charged them with murder and aggravated assault in the killing of Arbery. The state agency said Travis McMichael fired the fatal shots.

“Last thing I ever wanted to do in my life,” Travis McMichael told an officer in new video released earlier this month. He had chased Arbery in his pickup truck, believing him responsible for a series of break-ins in their neighborhood. “If he had stopped, this wouldn’t have happened.”

2. Hangings of 5 men of color

In June, authorities in three states investigated a sudden string of hangings involving five Black and Hispanic American men. Between May 31 and late June, four men, Dominique Alexander, Malcolm Hirsch, Robert Fuller and a Hispanic man who was not identified, and a teenage boy, who was also not identified, were found dead from hangings in two Southern California cities, Houston and New York, which led to fears of foul play.

“We’re talking about multiple people hanging from trees across America in the middle of a race war that’s going,” resident Anthony Scott told Fox26.

Police determined the deaths were due to suicide, but many were unnerved by that determination and troubled by the images of tied nooses, harkening back to the savage lynchings that were common in the Jim Crow South.

1. George Floyd

Floyd, a 46-year-old Minneapolis Black man, died May 25 after being handcuffed and pinned to the ground by a white police officer’s knee.

Officers had responded to a call from a grocery store that claimed Floyd had allegedly used a forged check. The officers were dismissed soon after a bystander’s video taken outside a south Minneapolis grocery store showed an officer, Derek Chauvin, kneeling on the handcuffed man’s neck, even after he pleaded that he could not breathe and stopped moving. Floyd, a father and Houston native, later died.

His death led to months of contentious demonstrations across the world. His death at the hands of the officer was compared to that of Eric Garner, who died in New York after officers placed him in a chokehold during an arrest over Garner selling illegal cigarettes. The officer involved in that case was never indicted.

In Floyd’s case, Chauvin faces a murder charge, and three other officers, J Alexander Kueng, Thomas K. Lane and Tou Thao, who were also on the video, face aiding and abetting murder charges. The officers are set to go to trial in spring 2021.

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