S. E. Williams
While some years begin peacefully and then slip quietly away leaving history with unremarkable impressions, 2015 was certainly not one of those years.
2015 seemed destined from its beginning to be recorded in the annals of time as a year of unmitigated violence and human tragedy punctuated all too frequently with incidents of extreme weather, lost jetliners, economic turmoil, or wandering refugees.
Also remarkable about 2015, was in the midst of these crises, although the world continued to turn as expected, it metaphorically shrunk as wars ebbed and flowed, international agreements (though often hard struck), were never the less attained, technology advanced and the spirit of competition and grace provided ample opportunities for celebration.
The year closed just as it began, with terrorist fostered tragedy; and yet, in the end as in the beginning, the true spirit of compassion and unselfish concern for human suffering tempered with perseverance and determination, joined together citizens of the Inland Empire with those in the counties of Riverside and San Bernardino at-large, with the residents of California, the populace of America and ultimately, the people of the world—all determined to fight darkness with light, to meet hatred with hope.
On January 7, 2014, as the world begrudgingly turned from the joys of the 2013 holiday season, citizens of the world were shocked by the boldness of a terrorist attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris. Two brothers attacked employees at work there that day and left 11 dead, 11 injured and on their way out also managed to shoot and kill a police officer. The brothers were eventually caught and killed but their violent act of terror set an ominous tone for the year.
2015 also saw the rise of the terrorists’ organization, ISIS (Islamic State), and marveled at its ability to inspire others to extreme acts of violence. By year’s end, despite the aggressive efforts of America’s Special Forces along with several allies who worked to degrade and destroy the group, ISIS had managed to launch terrorists’ attacks on three continents.
In July, an ISIS suicide bomber killed 33 people in Suruc, Turkey; in September, two suicide bombers killed 102 people at a peace rally in Ankara, Turkey; On October 31, a bomb planted by ISIS brought down a Russian passenger airliner over the Sinai and killed the 224 people on board; on November 13, three teams of ISIS terrorists struck at four separate locations in Paris. They killed a total of 130 people; and, on December 2, ISIS sympathizers struck close to home when two terrorists launched a devastating attack on the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino. They killed 14 people and injured 22.
From these tragedies came a growing acknowledgement by leaders of the world that ISIS terrorists were truly an international concern that required a collective, international response.
The terror fostered in the world by the Islamic State had an exponential impact in 2015. The group’s foothold in Syria in the midst of that state’s debilitating civil war led America and other nations to forge challenging international alliances to support those fighting for democracy in the nation, while they simultaneously battled against ISIS who had gained a strong-hold in the chaotic country. At the same time, America modified its quest to push the nation’s leader out and partnered with allies to find a face-saving exit for the country’s dictator, Bashar al-Assad. All of this was done in hopes of bringing peace to a war torn country so that its millions of refugees, scattered across the world can eventually find their way home.
The Syrian war had managed to create the worst refugee crisis since World War II. However, it was not until the small body of a toddler-aged Syrian refugee washed ashore in Turkey that the world truly took notice of their grievous plight. To date, more than 4.4 million Syrian refugees wander the globe in search of safe haven. Some have found refuge in the Inland Empire.
The acceptance of refugees is a true lesson in compassion. A meaningful lesson from all of these tragedies is how communities willingly come together in support of the victims and in defiance of the terror.
While on a European vacation in 2015, three young Americans showed defiance, true bravery and heroism in the face of terror when they tackled a gunman on a train in France just as he was about to open fire. That single act of bravery was reflective of the stories of heroism in the face of hatred told by survivors beginning with the incident at Charlie Hebdo in Paris to the tragedy at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino and all sites of terror in between.
However, one of the greatest lessons in response to terror this year was taught by the family members of victims in the community of Charleston, South Carolina following the June massacre of nine African Americans inside their church—the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, by a self-proclaimed racist.
The sentiments of the family members of the victims extended far beyond their own grief and loss and it set the tone for national healing. “I forgive you, my family forgives you,” one family member reportedly told the shooter. “We would like you to take this opportunity to repent. Do that and you’ll be better off than you are right now.” They demonstrated the epitome of forgiveness—they moved spiritually, beyond the painful result of the terrorist act, beyond the hate.
Members of the African American community struggled again and again throughout the year to embrace that lesson in forgiveness as Black men and some women continued to be shot, tasered and choked-to- death under the color of authority. Although the numbers of police related deaths of Black Americans are not officially tracked on a national level, this year various media outlets kept their own tallies.
According to a newly released report by Think Progress, law enforcement officers in America killed more people in 2015 than in 2014. While numbers vary from source to source, the Washington Post cited 975, while the Guardian put the tally at 1,125. Although the police killed more White than Blacks based on their majority representation in the nation’s population, relatively speaking, young Black men are 21 times more likely to be killed by cops than young White men. The data also showed California, Texas, and Florida led the nation in 2015 in deadly police encounters.
Response to this escalating scourge on the Black community gave rise to what some have called, the new Civil Rights Movement—Black Lives Matter. Originally organized in response to the Trayvon Martin murder by a self-anointed vigilante in Florida in 2012, this year, the organization shaped the conversation on race in America in a big way. Black Lives Matter describes itself as, “a chapter-based, national organization working for the validity of Black life and also working to (re) build the Black liberation movement.”
In 2015, the movement gained international momentum and managed to bring laser-focused attention to the need for police to be held accountable for, what at times appeared, as the indiscriminate murder of African Americans. The group’s activism was instrumental in demanding officers be required to wear body cameras; of the need for a shift to community-based policing; as well as enhanced police training.
Black Lives Matter also weighed in on the need for prison reform and other issues critical to the Black community. In addition, the Black Lives Matter movement joined with the Gay, Lesbian, Bi-sexual and Transgendered community to bring attention to the frightening and exponential increase in the murder of transgendered individuals—obvious hate crimes – that has continued to be ignored by the national press. By late November, 21 transgender people had been murdered in America, more than any other year on record. Most of those murdered were Black or other people of color.
Parallel the with Black Lives Matter movement relative to the need for enhanced focus on issues facing young Black men in America, President Barack Obama launched a program, My Brother’s Keeper, in 2014. Ironically, the program was also an outgrowth of the Trayvon Martin tragedy in 2012.
In 2015, the President appeared determined to make My Brother’s Keeper a legacy initiative and established a corporate-backed non-profit organization to support it. The program is designed to help every boy and young man of color who is willing to do the hard work to get ahead.
Also in 2015, the president secured another major legacy certain to have a meaningful impact the lives of all Americans. It is expected Black Americans and other minorities will eventually be the greatest beneficiaries of this legacy. Unfortunately, however, because a large percentage of African Americans live in the south, health care benefits are still being blocked by conservative governors and majority, conservative state houses—this, in spite of a major Supreme Court victory in 2015 solidified the legality of the historic healthcare legislation.
As a matter of fact, despite organized and repeated Republican obstruction, President Obama had a victorious year. The number of medically uninsured dropped to less than 10 percent in 2015 and m
ore than 17 million Americans now have health care. He secured the controversial Trans-Pacific partnership; replaced the contentious No Child Left Behind educational program; legalized same-sex marriage; and despite the legendary Republican efforts to stymie any progress on any issue the president has attempted since he took office, this year the president reached a bi-partisan budget deal that removed the continuous threat of a government shutdown. Also, along the way he finally said no to the Keystone Pipeline.
As a backdrop to these accomplishments, the president continued to work for an international agreement on climate change as the world languished under worrisome environmental conditions and extreme weather events. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) record temperatures, heat- waves and a promised El Nino made 2015 one of the more unusual in recent history.
July 2015 was the warmest month ever recorded for the globe. Europe, South Asia and the Middle East all experienced heat-waves of historic proportions while flooding washed away swaths of communities in both Africa and the United States. In addition, a category 5 storm devastated the South Pacific Islands in May while Alaska experienced the warmest May on record.
California faced the most severe drought in a thousand years. It forced the declaration of a state of emergency and the governor rationed the state’s water. In September, wildfires raged across the the California landscape and burned more than 61,000 thousand acres, destroyed 1,400 homes and displaced 23,000 people.
The nexus of these extreme weather events concurrent with ongoing international discussions on the issue of climate change may have been the impetus needed for international compromise and coalescence in quest of a solution to this major world issue. President Barack Obama eventually played a pivotal role in attaining the historic and aggressive international climate change agreement reached in mid-December.
While fighting the drought, Californians also found time to celebrate its heroes and she-roes in sports and entertainment. Californian Misty Copeland, became the nation’s first African American Prima Ballerina when she was named a principal by the American Ballet Company in June and in the process gave hope and fostered a booming sense of pride in the hearts of aspiring young Black girls who saw themselves in her. Californian and top rated tennis star Serena Williams showed us all how to fail by daring greatly with both class and humility when she came up just short of her grand slam bid—the closet any woman had come since 1988. And, Golden State Warrior Most Valuable Player Stephen Curry led his team to their first NBA championship victory in forty years.
California is also home to one of 2015’s greatest technological advancements. On December 14, the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant began operation as the largest and most technologically advanced seawater desalination plants in the nation. The plant has already produced more than 1.5 billion gallons of locally controlled water for San Diego County—a much needed solution in a state made vulnerable by drought.
Yes, 2015 was a year of sadness but history must also record it as a year of historic accomplishments filled with determination, promise and hope.
The Voice looks forward to bringing you the stories of 2016.