WASHINGTON — While no year is like the one before, 2020 really felt tumultuous in the U.S. It challenged Americans in a way we hadn't been in a while, on many conflicts that have lingered since before the nation's founding.
Between the pandemic and struggling economy, election and fight for equity, people forced to isolate in the spirit of altruism had to deal with themselves and each other in an unexpected way, especially over the issues of racism and intolerance.
The significant moments in the movements for social justice might be arduous to quantify respectfully, with so much work going in and taking the cooperation, dedication and sacrifice of a myriad of decades of people.
Here are more than a dozen powerful points that reverberated across the country this year.
The Black, 26-year-old emergency medical worker was shot and killed inside her Louisville, Kentucky, home by police on March 13. Police had a search warrant as part of a narcotics investigation, but they found no drugs. Protests were sparked again nationwide in September after a grand jury declined to indict officers in Taylor’s death.
A video surfaced in early May of 25-year-old Arbery’s killing. He was shot on Feb. 23 in Brunswick, Georgia, while running from two white men in a pickup truck. The father and son charged with murder were denied bond in November. Arbery's death, eerily reminiscent of Jim Crow-era terrorism, drew outrage and protests that led to arrests. It also led to tributes such as 2.23-mile runs -- the distance indicating the date he was killed.
The May 25 Minneapolis police killing of Floyd, 46, could be considered the breaking point this year. The video of former officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd's neck as he tried to tell them he could not breathe extracted a visceral reaction from the nation. Many were weary of violence against Black people and police brutality since Taylor and Arbery’s deaths, but Floyd’s faced the U.S. with a racial reckoning. Cathartic demonstrations and unrest continued at a heightened level across the country already fatigued from the COVID-19 pandemic and the presidential election.
The issue of racism in America seemed almost impossible to ignore. The nation’s biggest cities had clashes between protesters and police, notably a young, diverse crowd near the White House dispersed with tear gas before President Donald Trump posed for a photo in front of a church with a Bible.
Central Park birdwatcher
Black birder Christian Cooper was in New York City’s Central Park on May 25 when he asked Amy Cooper, a white woman (no relation), to leash her dog. She responded by calling 911 on Cooper, who recorded a video of the exchange that went viral. He told The New York Times “her inner Karen fully emerged,” referencing the pejorative for an entitled white woman. She was charged with filing a false report in a case that became among the most visible examples of privilege.
Seattle CHAZ/CHOP Zone
The Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone aka the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest included several blocks of Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood amid the national unrest over Floyd’s death. Protesters established it after police abandoned the city’s East Precinct. Two teenagers were shot and killed in the area that stood for almost a month until authorities cleared it. Demonstrators sought to create a community without police violence.
Unrest and demonstrations against racial injustice and police brutality felt especially consistent in Portland, Oregon. Confrontations erupted there night after night between law enforcement and demonstrators and heightened at a federal courthouse in July. More than 100 people were arrested on federal charges related to the protests over the last several months. The majority of demonstrations for police reform were peaceful, and organizing over inequality is still happening.
Confederate statues and base names
Imagery recognizing the Confederacy, as well as colonialism, became a target during this summer’s protests. Statues of Confederate generals, explorers and conquerors were taken down, sometimes forcibly by protestors. This month, Congress passed a defense policy bill that allows renaming U.S. military bases honoring Confederate leaders, to Trump's disapproval.
50th anniversary of LGBTQ+ Pride Month
June marked the 50th year of annual Pride Month, celebrating pioneers who fought for the rights of gay and trans people. The month for the community and allies started in honor of the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York, which was a watershed moment for the movement in America. Many cities skirted parades and usual celebrations in 2020 for virtual ones because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Popular pancake mix and syrup brand Aunt Jemima announced in June that the 130-year-old label, featuring a Black woman evoking mammy and minstrel stereotypes, would change. Quaker Oats said the company did it as part of plans “to make progress toward racial equality.” It was one of the significant self-reflection by several products in the wake of Floyd and others’ deaths. Uncle Ben's, Eskimo Pies, Land O'Lakes, Cream of Wheat and Mrs. Butterworth's all underwent brand reviews.
The holiday also called Emancipation Day, among other names, commemorates the end of U.S. slavery. Awareness around the celebration reached a new level in June 2020, with pushes for official government and corporate recognition.
Beyoncé released her now Grammy-nominated anthem “Black Parade” on Juneteenth, one of the dozens of proud, action songs many artists released this year.
The name is a combination of its date, June 19, when a Union general told the last remaining enslaved African-Americans in Galveston, Texas, in 1865 of President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation issued two years before. It freed slaves in Confederate states, but slavery still continued in border states until the 13th Amendment abolished it in December 1865.
Seven years after the owner said he'd never change the nickname, Washington's pro football team announced in July it would retire the name it held for more than eight decades. Now known as the Washington Football Team, the U.S. capital’s NFL franchise finally gave into pressure from sponsors and years of criticism that its name was a slur offensive to Native Americans and Indigenous people. Local officials had long said the team, which has a stadium in Maryland, wouldn’t be welcome in D.C. again unless the name changed.
Later that same week in July, accusations of a sexual harassment culture against women in the organization were reported by The Washington Post, another case of inequity toward marginalized people.
The Burgundy and Gold's name change launched a reexamination of many mascots from professional levels to high school and beyond. In December, the Cleveland Indians announced it would change its name as well.
The death of civil rights hero and longtime Atlanta congressman U.S. Rep. John Lewis came at a poignant time in the country. He died July 17 at the age of 80, seven months after announcing he had pancreatic cancer. The son of sharecroppers, Lewis was an organizer of the 1963 March on Washington and helped lead the 1965 march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, on “Bloody Sunday.”
Shortly before he passed, Lewis wrote a New York Times essay and asked that it be published the day of his funeral. In it, he recalled Martin Luther King Jr.’s teachings writing, “He said we are all complicit when we tolerate injustice.”
Lewis also spoke loud in opposition of President Donald Trump. One of his last public appearances was at Black Lives Matter Plaza in front of the White House.
He became the first Black lawmaker to lie in state at the U.S. Capitol.
The U.S. senator from California earned a historic position this year becoming the first woman headed to the White House. Shattering another consequential ceiling, the second Black female and first South Asian-American senator is now the vice president-elect, the highest rank a woman has ever been elected to in American government.
The former California attorney general is the daughter of Indian and Jamaican immigrants. She is affectionately known to her stepchildren as Momala. Her husband, Doug Emhoff, will be the first second gentleman and Jewish person in the White House.
Joe Biden picked Harris, his opponent for the Democratic presidential nomination, as his running mate in August. She’s been a lifelong public safety and civil rights leader, but critics are concerned over her time as a prosecutor overseeing drug enforcement and mass incarceration.
One of the most memorable moments of the primary was the June 2019 debate when she criticized Biden’s opposition to school-integration busing.
“There was a little girl in California who was a part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day,” Harris said. “And that little girl was me.”
100th anniversary of women’s suffrage
In the more than 200 years of the U.S., women have only been allowed to vote for less than half that time. August 2020 marked the centennial of the 19th Amendment that banned the denial of the right to vote based on sex. Progress has come along in the past century, however, the struggle for equality continues with movements like the Women’s March and #MeToo.
The Black man was shot seven times in the back by a Kenosha, Wisconsin, police officer on Aug. 23, igniting another series of protests over racial injustice after a video was posted online. Several nights of unrest followed, and a 17-year-old is going to trial on charges that he shot and killed two men and wounded another at the demonstrations. Blake remains paralyzed but was released from a hospital months ago.
The pro basketball league halted the playoffs after the Milwaukee Bucks didn't take the court against the Orlando Magic in protest of Blake’s shooting and racial injustice. Several sports, including the WNBA, MLB and MLS, postponed games in solidarity.
Tensions had felt high with the NBA returning to action in the Florida bubble during the pandemic, while awareness was rising over systemic inequality and police violence. The NBA players helped further sentiments that athletes like tennis’ Naomi Osaka and NASCAR’s Bubba Wallace carried this summer, and Colin Kaepernick had called attention to years prior.
March on Washington
A 2020 march was announced at George Floyd’s funeral by the Rev. Al Sharpton. On Aug. 28, Sharpton, Martin Luther King III and other speakers led thousands of people at the Lincoln Memorial.
It was 57 years since King Jr., Lewis and more icons gathered crowds at the same spot for the original 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Aug. 28 was also the day 14-year-old Emmett Till was lynched in 1955.
Organizers said they sought to show the urgency for policing reforms, end to racial violence and demand voting rights protections ahead of the November election.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the oldest person on the Supreme Court at the time, its second woman and first Jewish woman, died Sept. 18 at 87 of metastatic pancreatic cancer.
The Notorious RBG -- an endearing nickname earned after the great rapper and fellow-Brooklyn-native Biggie Smalls -- was more than a fierce defender of women’s rights. Ginsburg was a cultural champion. She died after 27 years on the country's highest court, following her appointment in 1993 by President Bill Clinton.
Ginsburg was the first woman to lie in state at the Capitol.
Her passing was yet another blow of 2020 as the heated election became more contentious due to the vacancy. Ginsburg’s most fervent wish was to not be replaced until a new president took office. But Trump picked Amy Coney Barrett, seen by many as Ginsburg's ideological opposite, in late September.
Thousands of women marched at rallies across the country in opposition of Trump and the Senate Republicans' push to confirm Barrett. After a partisan process that seated her on the court before Election Day, Barrett heard her first arguments as justice in November.
The state shed its label as the last with a flag featuring the Confederate battle emblem. Voters approved a banner without the Confederate symbol on Election Day. Over 70% of voters approved a new flag with the state flower magnolia and the words “In God We Trust.”
White supremacists in the state Legislature adopted the Confederate flag in 1894 amid backlash to power Black people gained during Reconstruction. The symbol widely considered racist was divisive in a state with a significant Black population. The rebel-themed flag was retired in June after the nation erupted in protests following Floyd's killing.
Perhaps the long-awaited, lingering, looming climax of the year, Nov. 3 was the most salient election in modern U.S. history. Trump won the most votes for any incumbent president (74 million), but Biden won the most votes of any presidential candidate, period (81 million). More importantly, Biden won 306 electoral votes to Trump's 232.
The pandemic, struggling economy and reckoning with racism added to the already combative referendum. Trump was accused of trying to sabotage the U.S. Postal Service amid increases in mail voting. Misinformation and fears over foreign interference like Russia in 2016 also hung over the election. But after more than three tension-filled days of counting votes, a win in his native Pennsylvania sealed Biden’s victory.
Trump has refused to concede, claiming widespread voter fraud that his legal team has not been able to prove to the courts, including the Supreme Court. Attorney General William Barr, who Trump said resigned on Dec. 14 from the post the president had appointed him to, also said investigators have found no fraud that would overturn the election.
Biden, 78, will be the oldest president in history when inaugurated on Jan. 20, 2021.