2016 is a year that will be memorable for many, but in all the wrong ways. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, the first reality TV star and the first woman to win the nomination of their respective parties, clashed all year over just about everything. Still, given Trump’s racist rhetoric, the violence at his rallies and the women that came forward to accuse him of sexual harassment or assault, it was considered a given that 2016 would usher in the nation’s first female president.
Despite a valiant effort and the united support of outgoing First Couple Barack and Michelle Obama, not to mention the fact that Clinton won the popular vote by 2.8 million votes, Donald Trump is the nation’s 45th president. And that, more than anything else, solidified that the world had gone completely awry in 2016. There were a few bright spots…but not many.
Here are the top 10 news stories of 2016.
If there was anything to look forward to this year, it was the opening of the NMAAHC in Washington, D.C. Our own Tom Joyner and his niece, who provided a moving account, were there as were Oprah Winfrey, Will Smith, The Obamas, the founding director, Lonnie Bunch and just about everyone else who mattered in Black America. The beautifully rendered museum, 20 years in the making, opened in September and almost immediately become the most sought-after ticket outside of Hamilton on Broadway.
Crowds lined up to get same-day passes, which now are being handed out online. From Emmitt Till’s casket, to a recreation of the Woolworth’s lunch counter where civil rights activists fought segregation to the Oprah Winfrey theater (so named because she provided a $20 million dollar donation) the museum proudly showcase the rich heritage, the achievement and the struggles of the African-American experience.
9. The persistence of hate crimes and racial aggressions
When and where does it stop? From Trump’s making America racist again, to the director of a West Virginia non-profit who called Michelle Obama ‘an ape in heels” on Facebook, to the Indiana high school football player who called a Black cheerleader in a picture with him a “nigger” on Snapchat, to the veteran whose free Chili’s meal was snatched back by a manager after a white patron questioned his bonafides, the year in racism was one of the best ever – if you were a racist. Then Breitbart.com editor Steve Bannon, a disciple of the so-called ‘alt-right’ movement who helped Brietbart become an epicenter of mainstream racism, was appointed as Trump’s Chief Executive. We guess we now know what “Make America Great Again’ really means, huh?
The fact that North Charleston, South Carolina police officer Michael Slager shot and killed Walter Scott is not in dispute. The slaying, which showed Scott fleeing Slager after a traffic stop, was shown around the globe. But a jury of his peers could not come to a conclusive verdict, which means Slager is currently a free man, although he can be re-tried. And there is a federal civil rights trial ahead, no matter what happens in the criminal trial. But think about it – a fleeing man being shot in the back by a policeman which was recorded – was not enough to unanimously convince 12 jurors that the policeman was guilty of murder. This, my friends, is America in 2016.
At the performance and party BET threw for the Obamas – Love and Happiness – An Obama Celebration, guest Dave Chappelle said the room was full of “Black folks and [actor] Bradley Cooper.” If you watched the broadcast, Chappelle was absolutely right. BET did the send off we wished we could have done (or at least attended) with Jill Scott, Janelle Monae, Usher, Bell Biv Devoe, De La Soul, The Roots band and more giving the Obamas the going-away party they deserved.
Though not much video or photos leaked, there was one short clip of a jacket-less President grooving to some soulful sounds at the afterparty. We knew they couldn’t be in The White House forever, but damn, this hurts. If the Obamas have done nothing else, as Scott once sang, ‘they represented in the fashion of the truly gifted.” We will miss their comings and goings via Air Force and Marine One (the two things Obama said he’d miss the most) seeing their graceful, gorgeous daughters Sasha and Malia, flourish and even the First Dogs Sonny and Bo. Although the Obamas deserve a much-needed rest, we hope to see them again in the public eye, continuing to contribute their brilliance in public service.
In one of the most devastating mass shootings of the last decade, 49 people were killed and 23 injured at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. They were killed by a lone gunman, Omar Mateen, who it is believed became radicalized and may or may not have had some homosexual feelings that he sought to suppress. In any case, it is one of the greatest tragedies of this or any year, that a group that included moms (who came out in support of their gay offspring) young people at the start of their lives and many, many others who were beloved by friends and family came to such an unexpected and tragic end.
Whether it was mental illness, misplaced anger around rampant police shootings, the police executions in Dallas, Texas and Baton Rouge, Louisiana underscored the untenable relationship some African-Americans have with racist police officers. Though none of the officers killed were known to be brutal, and in fact, were innocent bystanders to someone’s clear inability to reason or control destructive impulses, the killings do make a statement about how necessary it is to find ways to reconcile the Black community with true community policing. If police departments don’t act swiftly to weed out bad seeds so that good police can go about their mission to protect and serve, there is more violence to come on both sides of the equation.
4, The police shootings of Keith Lamont Scott, Terrence Crutcher and Korryn Gaines
Police shootings became a fact of life in 2016, with several high-profile cases making the news. Keith Lamont Scott was shot dead in Charlotte, North Carolina by police who had come looking for someone else. Terence Crutcher was unarmed but possibly under the influence after abandoning his car on a Oklahoma roadway when he shot dead by Oklahoma police officer Betty Shelby after being tased by another officer. Shelby now faces manslaughter charges. Baltimore woman Korryn Gaines was armed and shot dead by police during a standoff in her apartment. It’s unclear if mental illness played a role in her confrontation with police. Her young son, with her at the time, was unharmed.
37-year-old Alton Sterling, known to Baton Rouge locals as “The CD Man” was shot and killed by Baton Rouge police on July 5th. The shooting was captured on video. Sterling, was said to have acquired a gun to protect himself from robbery, was not viewed as threatening by eyewitnesses at the time of his confrontation with police. He was reported to be carrying a weapon outside a Baton Rouge police mart, but video does not show him with access to the weapon after he was tased and pinned to the ground by two arresting officers. One of the officers shoots Sterling multiple times, killing him. This indirectly led to the murder of three Baton Rouge police officers by Gavin Long, who targeted the police specifically.
Diamond Reynolds and her boyfriend, Philando Castile, who worked for the Minneapolis school district for 14 years, were driving home with her daughter in the backseat when they were stopped. When Castile told the officers he was legally armed, and reached for the paperwork to prove it, he was shot and killed. Reynolds recorded the aftermath via Facebook Live. Another officer later said Castile was stopped because he observed his ‘wide-set nose’ and thought he could be a robbery suspect. Officer Jeronimo Yanez, who shot Castile, has been charged with involuntary manslaughter.
What more can be said about the 2016 Election? Did hackers from Russia have an influence? Did the FBI director sabotage Hillary Clinton by releasing more emails prior to Election Day that turned out to be much ado about nothing? Did gerrymandering and voter suppression impact the election? If Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by a wide margin, how did she lose the smaller states that lead to her Electoral College defeat? Is Donald Trump going to be a president for all or just for the alt-right (read: the new term for white supremacists)?
Was there ever a crazier election cycle in the nation’s history? Is Hillary now retired from public life or can she, Bernie Sanders and others help reel in Trump and his cronies? Is America as we know it doomed? Give it to Donald Trump – he gave the world the best American-produced reality TV show ever and it’s bound to continue for at least the next four years. God help America.