It was the year of death.
What started as a year of hope and optimism ended with more than 3 million Americans dead. The killer that drew the most attention was COVID-19, a disease that was transported by a coronavirus that started in late 2019 in Wuhan, China, and hit Chicago in March.
Festivals and events were cancelled, including the 90-year-old Bud Billiken Parade and Picnic. Nine months after it paralyzed Chicago, the coronavirus pandemic will close out the year as perhaps the biggest story of the century.
For Blacks, the year was especially tragic. Gone are Kobe Bryant, Chadwick Boseman, Little Richard, and civil rights giants Congressman John Lewis, Joseph Lowery and C.T. Vivian.
In Chicago, we lost Reverend Leon Finney, Archbishop Lucius Hall, scholar Conrad Worrill, restaurateur Gerri Oliver and football Hall of Famer Gale Sayers. When COVID-19 claimed Hall and Worrill, the pain was deeply felt.
Statewide, Illinois lost over 3,000 Blacks, including 1,601 Blacks from Chicago.
With underlying health conditions and just 13 percent of the U.S. population, Blacks were disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, more than any other ethnic group.
Months into the pandemic, the Black community tuned out, as we grew tired and exhausted from the endless days of quarantine. We watched helplessly as morgues filled up, unemployment grew, businesses and restaurants closed for good. Though we stayed inside, the number of homicides still went up, along with incidents of car jackings.
The video of a police officer with his knee on a handcuffed George Floyd’s neck, as he pleaded for his life, in Minneapolis, sparked global outrage that set off “Defund the Police” campaigns and protests in cities big and small, including Chicago.
Blacks grew fed up with President Donald Trump’s soft stance on White Supremacist groups and made Joe Biden America’s new president. Many also grew tired of Trump’s poor leadership on the coronavirus pandemic. His failure to impose a federal mandate on wearing face masks in public made him the problem rather than a solution to a national health crisis. But with Biden’s inauguration less than a month away, Trump still has not conceded the race. The situation is one of several cliffhangers keeping America on edge into 2021.
The Senate races in Georgia, the trial of four police officers in the George Floyd case, and Mike Madigan’s future as Illinois House Speaker following disclosure of the ComEd bribery scandal are in the forefront in the public’s consciousness.
And carrying in to the new year is of course, the local cliffhanger, Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s efforts to restore public trust after her administration tried to block the video of a botched raid of social worker Anjanette Young’s house, a video that captured Young, naked, being handcuffed during the raid.
As these stories make their way into 2021, the Crusader looks back at 2020 and the biggest stories that chronicled a tough year in Chicago and America.
Senate moves to acquit trump in impeachment trial
After becoming the third president in history to be impeached by the U.S. House, led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Trump’s impeachment case was given to the Republican controlled Senate on January 16. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was heavily criticized for not allowing new witnesses to testify about the president’s alleged withholding of U.S. military aid to influence Ukraine in investigating Joe Biden, Trump’s political opponent.
The Senate eventually acquitted Trump of both obstruction, and abuse of power and obstruction of Congress by a 52 to 48 vote that ran largely along political party lines.
Kobe Bryant and daughter among nine killed in helicopter crash
Retired NBA Superstar Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna on January 26 were among nine people killed after their Sikorsky S-76 helicopter crashed in the Los Angeles suburb of Calabasas. The world mourned as details of the crash later emerged. Shortly before 10 a.m. that morning, the pilot became disoriented in dense fog. After losing altitude, the helicopter slammed into a hillside. The group was on its way to Thousand Oaks, California, where Bryant was scheduled to coach a tournament game at Mamba Sports Academy.
Bryant and Gianna were laid to rest in a private funeral on February 7, 2020. On February 24, they were honored in a memorial service at the Staples Center, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel. About 20,000 people filled the Staples Center for the nationally televised memorial.
In May 2021, Bryant will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
FIRST COVID-19 death reported in U.S. near Seattle
On February 11, the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) proposed COVID-19 as the official name for the disease that the coronavirus causes. The acronym stands for coronavirus disease 2019. On February 29, a patient near Seattle had died from the coronavirus, in what was believed to be the first coronavirus death in the United States at the time.
Black Voters save Biden campaign from defeat
After trailing his opponents in the Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada caucuses, Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden’s campaign made a thundering comeback after Congressman James Clyburn’s endorsement led Black voters to give Biden a big victory. The decisive win on February 29 gave Biden unstoppable momentum that quickly forced South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren out of the race after poor showings days later on Super Tuesday.
On Super Tuesday, Biden won primaries in Virginia, Alabama, Arkansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas. In April, Biden’s last big opponent, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, drop- ped out of the race.
Report questions Kim Foxx’s office in Smollett case
Special prosecutor Dan Webb released a report that questioned Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office’s decision to drop 16 charges against “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett in 2019. As part of his investigation, Webb charged Smollett with six counts of disorderly conduct and filing false police reports for allegedly staging a racist and homophobic attack on himself in Chicago in January 2019.
The report came nearly a month before Foxx was up for re-election in the Democratic Primary. After its release, Foxx’s campaign issued a press release calling the timing of Webb’s charges “political” with the election so close.
Black woman from Auburn Gresham first COVID-19 death in Illinois
Illinois’ first death from the coronavirus occurred on Monday, March 16. The deceased was Patricia Frieson, a 61-year-old Black woman from the Auburn Gresham community who contracted the virus at a nursing home in DuPage County.
Frieson, who reportedly had an underlying medical condition, died after having contact with someone else who had been contaminated with the virus. Frieson was hospitalized when she died. On the morning of March 25, Frieson’s older sister Wanda Bailey, 63, also died of COVID-19.
On March 20, Governor JB Pritzker issued the first stay-at-home order, except for essential workers, after Illinois reported its fifth COVID-19 death.
On March 27, President Trump signed a $2 trillion bill to help businesses and those who had lost their jobs from pandemic-related circumstances.
Foxx wins Democratic Primary as pandemic fears spread
Black voters in Chicago on Tuesday, March 17, pushed through a global health crisis, and a problem-plagued Illinois Primary to give Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx a dominant win for the Democratic nomination.
Foxx won easily, taking more than 53 percent of the vote. Her biggest opponent, former assistant Cook County prosecutor Bill Conway, was a distant second with nearly 28 percent of the vote.
Turnout was low after calls were sent to Governor Pritzker to postpone the election because of concerns of voters spreading the coronavirus.
Biden also won Illinois in the Democratic Primary.
Preckwinkle blasted for firing of Dr. Terry Mason, Provident Hospital ER closure
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle drew criticism after the sudden firing of the county’s top doctor, Dr. Terry Mason. Amid public outcry, Preckwinkle referred questions to Cook County Health and Hospital System interim CEO Debra Carey, who she said was responsible for Mason’s termination. Preckwinkle also said she could not comment on personnel matters. Preckwinkle also drew criticism after she temporarily closed the Provident Hospital ER April 7, saying a patient contracted COVID-19 and the facility did not allow social distancing. Preckwinkle reopened the ER two weeks later after pro- tests and public outcry.
Lightfoot creates Rapid Response Team after COVID-19 deaths among Blacks increase
At a press conference on April 6, Lightfoot announced the creation of a Rapid Response Team after the city released data that showed while Black residents make up 30 percent of Chicago’s population, they account for 52 percent of the city’s 4,680 lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19, and 72 percent of Chicago’s 98 deaths.
The CTA redeployed its longer, accordion-style buses to routes with high ridership on the South and West sides to allow for social distancing. The city’s Department of Public Health has issued a patient data health order, which requires demographic data from all health care providers. The “boxes” related to race and ethnicity have gone unchecked in a quarter of the COVID-19 test results reviewed by her department.
Facing pushback from Lightfoot, Governor Pritzker orders all Illinois schools to hold classes online amid rising cases.
City Council confirms David Brown as Chicago’s new top cop
The City Council on April 21 voted 50-0 to appoint former Dallas Police Chief David Brown to lead the Chicago Police Department. Brown led the Dallas Police Department from 2010-2016. He won the job after being picked as a finalist by the Chicago Police Board, along with Aurora Police Chief Kristen Ziman and Chicago Police Deputy Chief Ernest Cato.
Brown replaced interim Superintendent Charlie Beck, who took over the department after the mayor fired former Superintendent Eddie Johnson.
Ida B. Wells honored with special Pulitzer Prize
Ida B. Wells, the Black female journalist who investigated lynchings in the South during Jim Crow and pushed for voting rights for millions of women, was awarded a Pulitzer Prize citation 89 years after she died in Chicago. The announcement was made Monday, May 4, at the Pulitzer Prize ceremony at Columbia University in New York.
Unrest erupts in Chicago after George Floyd’s death
Residents in Chicago took to the streets to voice their outrage at four officers who were eventually arrested and charged in connection with George Floyd’s death on May 25. Protests erupted in many cities across the globe.
In Chicago, beginning on July 30 there was mass looting on the South and West sides, despite calls made to police to protect struggling businesses. Lightfoot drew heavy criticism as more than 350 members of the National Guard were used to patrol downtown while businesses on the South and West sides were heavily damaged. Walgreens, Jewel-Osco supermarkets, discount chains and Bank of America branches were among the hardest hit businesses that reopened months later.
Mike Madigan’s career as House Speaker in jeopardy after
Federal prosecutors announced on July 17 that ComEd, the largest electric utility in Illinois, has agreed to pay $200 million to resolve a federal criminal investigation into a years-long bribery scheme,
The scandal involves ComEd, who prosecutors say in exchange for favorable legislation, gave jobs, contracts and payments to people connected to “Public Official A,” who is later referred to as the Illinois House Speaker Madigan. Feds say the scandal occurred between 2011 and 2019.
Prosecutors say Public Official A controlled what measures were called for a vote in the Illinois House of Representatives and exerted substantial influence over fellow lawmakers concerning legislation affecting ComEd. The company admitted that it arranged for jobs and vendor subcontracts for Public Official A’s political allies and workers, even in instances where those people performed little or no work that they were purportedly hired by ComEd to perform.
Madigan has not been charged with any wrongdoing, but his political career remains uncertain as he prepares to run for another term amid calls for his resignation by Governor JB Pritzker and Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth. At least 19 House members say they will not vote for Madigan. If their plans remain the same, Madigan will not get the 60 votes he needs for House Speaker. In January, Madigan will run against State Representative Stephanie Kifowit of Oswego, who announced her campaign for House Speaker in October.
In December, the Illinois Black Caucus said in a statement, “After analysis, we believe our caucus is in a more advantageous position under the leadership of Speaker Madigan to deliver on our priorities.” The Black Caucus has spent the last half of the year preparing an ambitious legislative agenda in response to the issues raised by the Black Lives Matter movement and civil unrest following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Congressman John Lewis dies after decades of fighting for civil rights
Lewis died July 17 after battling pancreatic cancer. He led the march across the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma, Alabama, on “Bloody Sunday, in 1965.” He fought for the voting rights of millions of Blacks and was responsible for the birth of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Lewis was the youngest and last survivor of the “Big Six” civil rights activists who led numerous marches, protests and sit-ins during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.
Another civil rights giant, Reverend Cordy Tindell “CT” Vivian, 95, died hours before Lewis. Vivian marched alongside Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King and endured bloody sit-ins to desegregate diners in the South.
Mercy Hospital announces plans to close after nearly 170 years
Mercy Hospital, on July 27, announced that it will close next year as Chicago’s oldest and first teaching hospital.
Mercy officials said the nearly 170-year-old hospital suffered a setback when a merger deal fell through that would have brought together Advocate Trinity Hospital, South Shore Hospital and St. Bernard Hospital.
Black leaders led protests to save the hospital, saying it’s a much-needed institution in Bronzeville after the closure of Michael Reese Hospital in 2009.
On December 15, the State Health Facilities and Services Review Board by a 6-0 vote rejected the hospital’s plans to close its doors, saying they feared that patients would have less access to medical care, especially during a pandemic.
Looters hit on Mag Mile again after police shooting in Englewood
After the police shooting of Latrell Allen in Englewood, looters for the second time hit numerous high-end stores on the Mag Mile in the early hours of August 10. They smashed windows and ran off with merchandise. It was the second time that the Mag Mile was hit since May during the George Floyd protests.
The latest round of looting renewed criticism toward Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, who some say is too soft on crime with her progressive agenda.
After the second wave of looting on the Mag Mile, a Looting Task Force was created that led Chicago police to arrest at least 100 people after it posted videos on its website. No task force was created after businesses on the South and West sides were looted in May.
No evidence found to charge Foxx’s office in Smollett case
On August 15, Special Prosecutor Dan Webb said he did not find evidence to support filing criminal charges against Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx or any other prosecutor in the Jussie Smollett case. However, Webb said he found ‘substantial abuses of discretion’ in the Jussie Smollett case.
But Webb also said he did not find evidence that the case was improperly influenced by third parties, such as Tina Tchen, the onetime chief of staff to former First Lady Michelle Obama, nor did he find evidence that would support criminal charges.
Shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha ignites weeks of unrest
Jacob Blake, 29, was shot in the back seven times on August 23 by officer Rusten Sheskey, who wasn’t wearing a body camera. Three of Blake’s sons were in the backseat of his SUV during the shooting. Earlier, Blake had been tasered during a scuffle with the officers. Blake is still recovering after being hospitalized in critical condition. Police say they were responding to a 911 call from a woman who referred to Blake as her “boyfriend” who was not supposed to be on the premises. The shooting sparked days of unrest in Kenosha, where windows were smashed, and businesses looted.
Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old white teenager from Antioch, Illinois, shot and killed two protestors with an AK-15-style rifle and wounded a third. Amid public outcry, Rittenhouse walked free for days before he was arrested and charged with multiple counts of homicide and unlawful possession of a firearm. During the days of unrest, President Trump visited Kenosha to support businesses and did not visit Blake’s family as he criticized Democratic opponent Joe Biden as being against police. Days later Biden visited the predominately white city pleading for peace, and he also visited Blake’s family.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies, sparking battle for Supreme Court
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, known to many as the liberal “Notorious B.I.G” who fought for gender equality causes on the High Court, died September 18 after 27 years on the bench. The Republican controlled Senate and President Trump immediately promised to replace her with less than two months before the November 3 elections. On September 26, Trump officially nominated Federal Judge Amy Coney Barrett during a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden that became a coronavirus super spreader event that infected Trump and many guests. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and fellow Republicans were labeled hypocrites for not holding to their promise made four years ago when they refused to confirm President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland after Antonio Scalia died on February 13, 2016. On October 27, Barrett, a Catholic assumed her new role on the high court after the senate confirmed her by a vote of 52-48.
Trump fails to denounce White Supremacy in first presidential debate
The first of three nationally televised presidential debates was held September 29. Loaded with interruptions, clashes and name-calling, Trump refused to denounce racism on the national stage when asked by moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News. Wallace asked Trump “Are you willing tonight to condemn white supremacists and militia groups and to say that they need to stand down…” Rather than condemn white supremacists, Trump responded: “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by, but I’ll tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the left because this is not a right-wing problem. This is a left-wing problem.” Proud Boys, a white extremist group praised Trump on Twitter and appeared to take the statement as marching orders saying “Standing down and standing by sir,” Two videos of the answer were posted under the account, including one with the caption, “God. Family. Brotherhood,” in which a man howled at the TV in response to Trump’s response.
COVID-19 cases begin rising in Illinois after months of decline
Governor Pritzker grew alarmed as Illinois reported 4,554 new COVID-19 cases, the second record high in as many days. Governor Pritzker declared the state is in a “new wave” of the disease.
The state also said the seven-day average of coronavirus tests coming back as positive has surpassed a threshold recommended by the W.H.O. The number of new cases would continue to soar throughout the month, forcing Pritzker to impose new restrictions throughout the state. The number of new cases continued to climb into October.
Marches held after Black teen fatally shot by officer in Waukegan
On October 20, 19-year-old Marcellis Stinnette was fatally shot by a Hispanic officer during a traffic stop outside the home of the mother of his girlfriend Tafara Williams. Police video of the incident shows Williams sped off from a traffic stop before she was stopped again by another officer shortly after. When Williams reverses her vehicle, the officer opens fire, striking both her and Stinnette. Both were taken to the hospital where Stinnette died.
The officer has been fired for “multiple policy and procedure violations,” including failing to activate his body camera before the shooting. Another officer has been placed on administrative leave. According to a civil lawsuit by Stinnette’s mother, Zharvellis Holmes, her son allegedly laid on the ground bleeding without medical attention for over eight minutes after being fatally shot by Waukegan police.
Biden defeats Trump to become nation’s 46th president
After a record-breaking turnout at polls throughout the country during Early Voting, Joe Biden defeated President Trump by seven million votes.
Howard University alum Kamala Harris became the first woman—Black or white—elected as the nation’s vice president.
Election night on November 3 initially looked like a repeat of 2016 after Trump took Florida and Ohio early in the evening. Trump also led in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan, which he won in his victory over Hillary Clinton four years ago. But Trump’s lead in those states began to dwindle as millions of mail-in ballots began to be counted for the next several days. On Saturday, December 7, the networks called the race in favor of Biden, who won all four swing states that voted for Trump in 2016. And in a stunning surprise, Trump would also lose Arizona and Georgia, becoming the first Republican president to do so since George H. W. Bush in 1992.
Despite Biden’s victory, Trump never conceded, but instead filed many frivolous lawsuits that claimed the election was rigged with fraud without providing any evidence. The Supreme Court threw out several lawsuits, and many federal courts refused to hear them. Trump lashed out at fellow Republicans as they remained largely quiet as the president attempted to overturn the election results.
On December 14, the Electoral College certified Biden as the president with 306 votes to Trump’s 232.
The Democrats, however, lost eight seats in the House and failed to gain control of the Senate outright. But two Democratic Senate candidates in Georgia, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, have pushed their Republican incumbents into a highly watched January 5 runoff race that will determine which party will control the Senate.
Locally, businessman Willie Wilson lost all 18 Black wards in his failed bid to unseat Senator Dick Durbin, who won the Black vote and was endorsed by many Black leaders.
Iris Martinez was sworn in as Cook County Circuit Court Clerk, months after defeating former Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin in the Democratic Primary. She succeeds Dorothy Brown, who decided not to run for re-election after 20 years in office.
In other races, Governor Pritzker’s fair tax amendment failed at the polls and led him to demand House Speaker Michael Madigan step down. Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth joined Pritzker, agreeing that the ComEd bribery scandal has damaged trust among voters.
In Chicago, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx silenced critics by easily winning a third term in office, taking nearly 64 percent of the vote in Chicago over Republican challengers Pat O’Brien and Brian Dennehy.
FDA approves Pfizer vaccine for COVID-19
The approval on December 11 came one day after an FDA advisory board voted to recommend the vaccine to the federal agency. On December 14, hospitals in cities across the country received the vaccine, which is administered in two shots.
A total of 23,000 Pfizer doses were given to Chicago’s 34 hospitals. Loretto Hospital on the West Side was the first to administer the vaccination to first responders. The vaccine is 95 percent effective against the vaccine. Congressman Danny K. Davis texted a picture of himself getting vaccinated to ease concern among Blacks who are reluctant to take the drug because of historic cases of racism in the medical industry, including the Tuskegee experiment.
On December 18, the FDA issued a second Emergency Use Authorization to Moderna, which is also 95 percent effective against the virus. Illinois will receive 174,000 Moderna vaccine doses outside of Chicago and 48,000 doses went directly to the city.
Lightfoot Administration accused of covering up botched police raid
On December 14, CBS2 Chicago aired a disturbing video showing Chicago police raiding the home of Anjanette Young during a no-knock warrant. The innocent woman stood naked and crying as she was handcuffed as 12 men searched her home. She told them 43 times they had the wrong home, but they didn’t listen. She was right. The person the police were looking for was next door with an electronic monitoring bracelet on.
In the center of the mess was Mayor Lightfoot, who was not in office at the time of the raid, but who was made aware of it by her staff via emails. She did not admit this at first. Now, many Black leaders and residents say they believe Lightfoot knew about the attempt to block the video that was aired on December 14. Many ask why the case went for nearly two years without any officers being disciplined for their role in the botched raid.
Since the video of Young, Mark Flessner, the city’s top attorney who tried to block the video, has been fired. On Monday, December 21, Lightfoot announced that all 12 officers involved in the raid were placed on desk duty pending an investigation by the Civilian Office of Police Accountability. On Wednesday, December 30, Lightfoot is expected to meet with Young in a private meeting.
On Sunday, December 27, Reverend Jesse Jackson led hundreds of protestors in a demonstration outside CPD headquarters to honor Young and criticize Lightfoot and the police.