America prepares to commemorate 50 years since the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 2013. But, most stories that dominated the Black Press in 2012 foretold a continued quest for racial justice.
The killing of Trayvon Martin; the contempt vote against Attorney General Eric Holder; the Black jobless rate; the fight to maintain voting rights; the contentious re-election bid of President Barack Obama and the rebirth of the debate on gun violence were just a few of the headlined topics in 2012. They reminded America that Black America has yet to overcome. The following is a synopsis of some of the top stories:
1. The Economy: As 2012 wound down, President Obama and leading members of Congress negotiated intensely to avoid the so-called “fiscal cliff” – the simultaneous occurrence of sizable tax hikes and deep spending cuts. Regardless of the outcome, African-Americans remain in double digit unemployment rates and continue as the racial group that has suffered the highest unemployment, lost most wealth and experienced more foreclosures during the economic downturn. A group of African-American organizational heads, convened by National Urban League President/CEO Marc Morial, says they will hold the President accountable for protecting the interests of African-American, his most loyal supporters.
2. Gun Violence: The nation united in grief over 20 first-graders and seven educators killed by mass murderer Adam Lanza, who had also killed his mother before killing himself Dec. 14. The shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary brought tears to President Barack Obama, reigniting an old debate over gun laws and mental health care. The discussions are escalating as Vice President Joe Biden will head a committee to suggest possible new legislation. Representatives of the powerful gun lobby, the National Rifle Association, have called for an armed guard in every school. The tragedy has also shed light on gun violence and deaths of children in cities across the nation, including in President Obama’s hometown of Chicago. There, at least 500 homicides occurred in 2012. Of those deaths, at least 270 were teenagers or children.
3. Re-election of President Obama: Concluding a nail biter of an election that practically spellbound the nation, President Barack Obama was re-elected in a decisive Electoral College vote of 332 to 206 against former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney on Nov. 6. As in his historic 2008 victory as the nation’s first African-American president, Obama again won with at least 95 percent of the Black vote.
4. Voter Suppression: As America approached the Nov. 6 election, 46 states introduced laws that would require voters to show photo identification, proof of citizenship or a birth certificate in order to vote. Legislators claimed the measures would prevent voter fraud. But civil rights leaders scoffed and decried the new laws as suppression and intimidation tactics that could have disenfranchised as many as five million Americans. Because of the diligence of key civil rights organizations such as the NAACP, the National Coalition on Black Voter Participation, and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the apparent plot was exposed and thwarted.
5. Rodney King Dies: The accidental drowning death of 47-year-old Rodney King on June 17, 2012 shocked the nation. King, who died in a swimming pool at a home that he shared with his fiancé, had become a symbol of civil rights 20 years after Los Angeles police viciously beat him during a videotaped traffic stop March 2, 1991. National outrage and six days of rioting broke out when the police officers where initially allowed to walk free. The publicity surrounding King’s sudden death was a stark reminder of inequities that continue against African-Americans in the criminal justice system.
6. Killing of Trayvon Martin: The February 26 shooting death of Trayvon Martin has become the quintessential symbol of racial profiling. A Florida judge has set a date of June 10, 2013, for the trial of George Zimmerman on charges of second-degree murder in the shooting. The unarmed 17-year-old was killed as he walked in a gated Sanford community toward his father’s house. He was wearing a hoodie, carrying a bag of skittles and a can of iced tea. Zimmerman, 29, a self-appointed neighborhood watchman has pleaded not guilty on grounds of self-defense. He claims Martin attacked him after he called police reporting a suspicious youth in the neighborhood.
7. Death of Whitney Houston: It was undoubtedly the biggest entertainment news of 2012. On the eve of the 54th Grammy Awards in Los Angeles on Feb. 11, Whitney Houston, a six-time Grammy Award winner and one of the most celebrated artists in music history, was found dead. The Los Angeles County coroner’s office determined that she died of drowning as a result of cocaine use. But, some still contend foul play and possibly murder. Compounding the shock, her death came just before the release of her final starring role in the film, “Sparkle”, which opened in August.
8. U. S. Supreme Court Upholds Affordable Care Act: Conservative Chief Justice John Roberts was the deciding justice in a 5-4 vote to uphold President Barack Obama’s staple legislation, nicknamed “Obamacare” on June 28. Despite arguments that U. S. citizens cannot be mandated to obtain health care, Roberts invoked that the law is constitutional as a tax. The ruling was a major relief to the Obama campaign.
9. Attorney General Eric Holder Found in Contempt of Congress: The first African-American to serve as attorney general, Holder was found in contempt of Congress June 28 by a largely partisan vote of 255-67. Seventeen Democrats voted in favor of the measure, and two Republicans voted against it. Holder was found in contempt in connection with an investigation into a tactic called “Fast and Furious,” in which authorities tracked weapons purchased by gun traffickers without immediately intercepting them. Holder was questioned over his refusal to turn over documents that showed how the Justice Department reacted to the investigation and the loss of more than 1,000 tracked weapons. Furious over the contempt vote, the Congressional Black Caucus and other leading Democrats walked out of the vote in protest. In all, 108 Democrats including minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Civil Rights Era icon John Lewis (D-Ga.) joined the protest.
10. Continued Fallout from Hazing Death of Robert Champion: Fallout continued throughout 2012 following the Nov. 19, 2011 hazing death of Florida A&M University drum major Robert Champion. In February, a national coalition of educational, clerical and journalistic leaders started a movement to end hazing and other types of violence on historically Black college campuses. In October, FAMU President James Ammons resigned after Champion’s parents, Pam and Robert Champion Sr., filed a lawsuit against the university. Just last week, a 32-page report was released by the Florida Board of Governors Inspector General’s Office. According to the Associated Press, it concludes that FAMU “lacked internal controls to prevent or detect hazing, citing a lack of communication among top university officials, the police department and the office responsible for disciplining students.”