For African-Americans, the last ten years have been a mixed blessing. When we started the decade in 2010, Barack Obama was still our present and Michelle Obama was still our First Lady. By decades’ end, the country had elected a president who was the antithesis to everything the Obamas were about.
Although Black America triumphed in many areas – unemployment was at record lows, Black women made significant strides in education and entrepreneurship – we also felt under attack by our president and by police. Much of the past decade has been full of executions of Black men by police – so many in fact, that they couldn’t all be included in a top 10 list.
Here were the top 10 news stories of the decade as defined by impact, interest, media focus and the outrage or triumph they elicited from the African-American community.
PHOTO: Martin Family
Trayvon Martin will forever be remembered as a teenager whose last minutes of life began in an innocuous way – heading out to convenience store to pick up some snacks while visiting his father in Sanford, Florida. Because it was raining, he wore a hoodie that night. Unfortunately, he ran across quasi-security guard George Zimmerman who tussled with the youngster after following him on suspicion of robbery.
Though he was told to wait for police, Zimmerman ended up shooting Trayvon, then 17, dead. Zimmerman would ultimately be acquitted of Martin’s murder, under Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law. Trayvon’s death would become the galvanizing event of the decade’s protests. His death incited a call for justice that culminated in the Black Lives Matter movement and unfortunately, was one of the first of many unjustified high-profile shootings of Black men.
Eric Garner was a man who was struggling to support a family. One of the ways he was doing so was by selling loose cigarettes in Staten Island, N.Y., which is illegal. Garner was in front of beauty supply store when he was confronted by police, including NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo. When Garner protested he was being harassed by the police for no reason and denied selling loose cigarettes, he was threatened with arrest. During Garner’s takedown, he was placed in an illegal chokehold by Pantaleo.
The entire arrest was recorded by Ramsey Orta, a friend of Garner’s who also volunteered with Copwatch, a grassroots police oversight organization. Garner, ultimately passed out and died. His last words were “I can’t breathe.” New York City’s medical examiner ruled the death a homicide with Garner’s obesity, heart and asthma being a contributing factor.
The video shot by Orta went viral, spurring nationwide rallies and protests. Pantaleo was never charged in the case but in 2019, he was fired from the police department after a departmental trial. Orta says he was harassed by police in the aftermath and ultimately was charged and took a plea deal on drugs and weapons charges. He is currently serving out the remainder of a four-year sentence. Garner’s family ultimately received a $9.2 M wrongful death settlement from New York City.
PHOTO: Michael Brown Family
Just a month after Eric Garner was killed in a confrontation with a police officer, 18-year-old Michael Brown was confronted by Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson. According to surveillance video from a convenience store in the area, Brown had been involved in a “strong-arm” robbery. While the details of that are still unclear, what is clear is that Wilson tussles with the unarmed Brown in an attempt to arrest him. Brown was a distance away from Wilson when he was shot and witnesses at the time say he had his hands up.
Brown’s body lay in the street for hours outside the apartment complex where he was killed. His death sparked protests that flared in Ferguson for the next week, some violent, as several businesses in the area, including a gas station, were burned and vandalized.
“Hands up, don’t shoot” became the rallying cry. Riot police were eventually brought in to quell the uprising and in the aftermath, Ferguson made some changes although at 2019 report said they weren’t enough. Wilson was not indicted by a grand jury and was cleared of any federal civil rights violations. On November 29, Wilson resigned from the Ferguson police force. Lezley McSpadden and Michael Brown, Sr., Michael Brown’s parents won a wrongful death settlement against the Ferguson police force for reportedly over $1.5M. Since the Ferguson uprising, six Black men associated with the events have been found dead by either homicide or presumed suicide.
On June 17th, white supremacist Dylann Roof, attended an evening Bible study at one of the nation’s oldest Black churches Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. An hour later, he came back and shot nine of the parishioners he’d previously studied with dead. Among the victims was the church’s pastor, Rev. Clementa C. Pinkney, who was also a South Carolina state senator.
Three church members survived and testified later that Roof justified the shootings with racial stereotypes of African-Americans. Roof had previously expressed white supremacist beliefs on his personal social media pages.
In 2017, Roof was convicted of 33 federal hate crimes and murder charges and was sentenced to the death penalty. To avoid the state death penalty, he ultimately pleaded guilty to nine counts of murder in South Carolina and received a life sentence for each. Although he is entitled to appeals through the federal process, he may still be executed.
Sandra Bland had every reason to live. The 28-year-old Illinois native was a graduate of Prairie View A&M University and was heading to her alma mater to take a job as a summer associate. She never made it. She was stopped on July 10 for a missed turned signal by Texas state trooper Brian Encinia.
Bland had a history or prior traffic violations, though in this case, she simply moved out-of-the-way as Encinia’s police car bore down on hers, thinking he was heading to another call. Encinia had a history of stopping motorists for minor infractions, issuing 1600 tickets in less than a year. When Bland refused to put out a cigarette, they had a verbal altercation and Bland was tussled to the ground and arrested. After spending a weekend in the Walter County Jail while her family attempted to pull together $500 for her bail, Bland was found dead of an apparent suicide on July 13th.
Bland had been placed by herself in the rear of the facility. Mandated welfare checks were missed by jail staff until she was found dead in her cell, hung by a plastic garbage bag. Her family didn’t believe she was suicidal, though Bland had said via her Facebook page that she was struggling with some depression and PTSD. Bland’s death generated nationwide protests when dashcam and cell phone video of the arrest went viral, though an investigation revealed no foul play.
Encinia was ultimately charged with perjury for making false statements related to the case and was fired. The charge was dropped when he agreed to never pursue a career in law enforcement again. Bland’s family settled a $1.9 million wrongful death lawsuit in 2016 and in 2017, Texas passed the Sandra Bland Act, which put new policies in effect for dealing with detainees who may have mental health or substance abuse issues.
Freddie Gray, Jr. was arrested after a Baltimore police officer witnessed him with a small knife and Gray fled from the area. Once arrested, Gray was placed in a police van and when he emerged after several stops were made, he was found unresponsive and hospitalized. Nine days later, he was dead, due to what was believed to be a spinal fracture.
As Gray wasn’t secured in the van against police department rules, the death was ruled a homicide. The six officers involved in different aspects of the arrest were arrested and charged with varying crimes, including murder. Protests which became violent broke out in Baltimore from April 25 continuing through the end of the month, They were finally quelled by police and the National Guard, which started leaving the city on May 3.
Gray’s death once again exacerbated tensions between Blacks and the police with many believing that Gray’s life wasn’t considered important as he was poor, Black and had a prior criminal record. Although the Justice Department didn’t file charges, the police department was blasted for brutality and ordered to change their policies. Ultimately, all six officers were either acquitted or charges against them were dropped. The Gray family won a $6.4 M lawsuit against the city of Baltimore.
There was the tragedy and horror of 9/11 and then, there was 11/9. That was the date that New York City billionaire Donald J. Trump officially became the 45th president-elect of the United States. Though Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, savvy grass-roots campaigning in “flyover” states helped Trump win the electoral college and the presidential election. While conservatives, Evangelist Christians, and some Republicans were ecstatic at Trump’s win, it sent a chill into progressives, liberals and even those who considered themselves moderates.
Their fears turned out to be valid, as Trump set out to undermine and dismantle many of Obama’s policies, including everything from Obamacare to environmental protections to relations with Cuba.
Trump’s rhetoric, racist mongering rallies and scandal-ridden administration haven’t diminished the fervent support of his base. The upcoming election, with one of the weakest slates of Democratic candidates in recent history, doesn’t seem as though it will remove Trump from the White House. He’s been a Teflon Don thus far. No matter the scandal, including 2 counts of impeachment, no matter the reports of incompetency and white supremacy, Trump looks like the frontrunner again.
During the NFL preseason in 2016, a newly enlightened Colin Kaepernick, then the quarterback of the San Francisco 49’ers, sat for the national anthem. When asked why, Kaepernick said it was to protest police shooting and police brutality and that he wouldn’t stand until the nation recognized the injustices meted out to African-Americans.
After being advised to kneel buy a veteran who said that allowed Kaepernick to protest while still respecting the flag and those who have served, Kaepernick started kneeling. As other players in the league followed suit, the narrative was changed to rebuke Kaepernick’s stance as disrespectful to the military. Kaepernick opted out of his contract in 2017 and hasn’t played a down of NFL football since.
Kaepernick’s stand earned the respect of African-Americans but the ire of Donald Trump, who said that the protesting players should be kicked out of the NFL. Ultimately, players who supported Kaepernick were able to negotiate a social justice initiative sponsored by the league, although it has gained little public traction during the NFL’s self-congratulatory 100th season celebration.
In 2019, Kaepernick settled privately with the NFL in his collusion lawsuit, which alleged that the 32 teams colluded to keep him from returning to the league. Jay-Z signed a deal the same year to partner with the NFL for entertainment and events, which some viewed as selling out Kaepernick. Though the NFL offered Kaepernick a private workout In November, Kaepernick chose to move the venue where 24 team reps were scheduled to appear. At the new venue, only six NFL reps appeared and after the initial publicity, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said the league had moved on.
Though Barack Obama left the White House in January 2017, he, his wife Michelle and daughters Sasha and Malia continue to make news for – just about everything they do. Obama was in the White House for 7 years into the decade, which incorporated such tragic events as most of the ones we covered in this piece as well as mass shootings like the Sandy Hook school massacre in 2012, the killing of 9/11 ringleader, terrorist Osama bin Laden in 2011, Obamacare’s passage in 2010, the end of the Iraq war in 2011 and so much more.
Since they’ve returned to private life, the Obamas remain newsworthy – Michelle’s 2018 book “Becoming” sold 10 million copies making it one of the best-selling memoirs of all-time; potentially heading to the distinction of the top-selling memoir in history. Barack also signed a multimillion dollar book deal for his memoirs, which he’s writing, though no announcement has been made about the book’s release yet. The Obamas have since signed a lucrative deal with Netflix to develop various content and their Obama Foundation is working on various initiatives. They own homes in Washington, D.C. and New York City, recently closing on a $12M dollar estate on Martha’s Vineyard.
After graduating from D.C.’s prestigious Sidwell Friends school, Malia Obama started Harvard University in 2017, after taking a gap year. Sasha graduated from Sidwell in 2019, and started her freshman year at the University of Michigan this fall.
Botham Jean was sitting down in his Dallas apartment to watch some TV with a bowl of ice cream, when his neighbor, Dallas police officer Amber Guyger, burst in, thinking she was in her own apartment one floor down. Jean was unarmed and in his own place, but Guyger says that when she saw a stranger in what she thought was her apartment, she took him for an intruder and killed him when he didn’t comply with her commands.
Outrage, especially after the spate of police shooting of unarmed Black men, and nationwide protests followed, and ultimately Guyger was arrested. She was convicted of murder on October 1, 2019 but another round of social media scorn followed both her ten-year sentence and that the judge Tammy Kemp and Botham’s younger brother, Brandt, hugged her after the verdict. Kemp gave her her personal Bible and Brandt offered his forgiveness. Three days after the trial’s conclusion, Joshua Brown, Botham’s next door neighbor, who reluctantly testified at his trial was shot dead at another apartment complex in what police said was a drug deal gone bad. In a recent updated on the case, Dallas police will not be held liable in Jean’s shooting.
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