There’s a meme circulating on social media that shrewdly sums up the year: January, February, quarantine, December.
No doubt about it, the global coronavirus pandemic swallowed up 2020 with its terrible toll on human life, the economy, school, work — in short, almost every facet of our lives. And the headlines on WTOP.com certainly reflected that.
But other things happened this year, too. Important, groundbreaking, inspiring, tragic and yes, some lighter, fluffier and adorable things — here’s to looking at you, Xiao Qi Ji — all happened this year.
Here’s a look at some of the year’s biggest D.C.-area news stories that had nothing — mostly — to do with the coronavirus pandemic.
On the tenth consecutive day of protests over the killing of George Floyd, protesters hold another “die-in” in the slain Minnesota man’s honor at the newly-christened Black Lives Matter Plaza on June 7. Two days earlier, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser employed city staff and D.C.-area artists in the writing of “Black Lives Matter” in yellow paint for two blocks of 16th Street north of the White House. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Calls for change
Sparked by the killing of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis in May, D.C. became one of the national flash points of protest related to race and policing in America this summer.
The epicenter was Lafayette Square and the streets around the White House where on June 1, broadcast live on television to the nation, law enforcement officers using batons, shields and chemical agents forcefully cleared large crowds of protesters before President Donald Trump, flanked by other top officials, walked to nearby St. John’s Church and brandished an upside-down Bible.
The use of federal officers to police the streets of D.C. drew criticism from D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, but she soon faced questions about her own police force’s tactics after a large crowd of peaceful protesters were penned on Swann Street — a quiet, leafy residential street in Northwest — as part of a controversial police tactic known as “kettling.”
Police deployed flash bangs, blocked-off alleyways and deployed a chemical irritant. Faced with arrest for violating the city’s emergency curfew, some protesters camped out in houses where owners had opened their doors.
Among those taking refuge: WTOP’s own Ken Duffy, who was on the streets of D.C. to cover the protest.
Bowser positioned herself as a high-profile Trump opponent and even commissioned D.C.-area artists to paint the pavement on 16th Street NW across the street from the White House in enormous, blazing yellow letters, officially re-christening the street “Black Lives Matter Plaza.”
Critics, including those affiliated with the anti-racist organization, decried the paintjob as a PR stunt.
In response, Bowser told reporters: “Black Lives Matter is very critical of police. They’re critical of me. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t see them and support the things that will make our community safe — and that we don’t all have a larger responsibility in the nation’s capital to send that very clear message to our nation.”
D.C. police are confronted by protesters as officers carry away a handcuffed protester along a section of 16th Street, Northwest, renamed Black Lives Matter Plaza, Thursday night, Aug. 27, 2020, after President Donald Trump had finished delivering his acceptance speech from the White House South Lawn. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Policing the police
George Floyd’s death in May also brought unprecedented scrutiny to police departments across the country, sparking calls for reform and tighter oversight of police departments — and, in some of the largest jurisdictions in the D.C. area — leadership shake-ups.
By the end of the year, police reform commissions had been set up across the region and the chiefs of police in Prince George’s County in Maryland and Fairfax County in Virginia, as well as the police chief of the D.C. police had all either left their posts or announced plans to do so.
In Prince George’s County, Chief Hank Stawinski said in June he was stepping down from one of Maryland’s largest law-enforcement agencies shortly after more than a dozen officers of color filed a lawsuit alleging “pervasive” racism and discrimination in the department.
Several months later, the department paid out a $20 million settlement to the family of a D.C. man who was shot to death while handcuffed in the front seat of a police cruiser in January — in what was believed to be among the largest such settlement in the U.S. involving someone killed by police.
Last month, Fairfax County Police Chief Ed Roessler said he was retiring in February after leading the largest police department in Virginia since 2013.
Then, in a move that surprised many, D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham, who has only served as D.C.’s top cop for three years, said he would leave his post to become chief of the much smaller police force in Prince William County, Virginia.
Newsham’s resignation — he has said he plans to stick around until after the presidential inauguration — came after the D.C. Council approved sweeping police reforms and trimmed his department.
The department’s handling of the summer’s wave of protests also came in for criticism, including from activist groups who argued the department was tougher on anti-racist demonstrators than on Trump-affiliated groups who descended on D.C. in a series of rallies after Trump’s election loss and violently clashed with counterprotesters.
The chairman of the D.C. Council, Phil Mendelson, said Newsham’s resignation presented an opportunity to try new approaches to law enforcement.
“We’re losing a good cop, but sometimes a fresh face can be good, too,” Mendelson said.
Other policymakers say the entire structure of policing in the U.S. — and the D.C. area — needs rethinking.
A general view of the Washington Football Team logo on the stadium before the game between the Washington Football Team and the Dallas Cowboys at FedEx Field on Oct. 25, 2020 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
What’s in a name?
Following the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis, the calls for change erupted that around the country took many forms.
In June, Washington’s NFL team began grappling with its racist legacy. The team was founded in 1932 by George Marshall Preston, a segregationist who refused to sign Black players until he was forced to do so.
But changing the team’s traditional name — which many consider a racist slur referring to Native Americans — seemed like a taller order.
After all, team owner Dan Snyder, who had resisted previous efforts to rename the team, famously vowed in 2013, “We will never change the name of the team. We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.”
Floyd’s killing in May spurred a nationwide reckoning over racism and equity in many facets of American life. There was fierce debate over Confederate monuments, statues, streets and other markers in the D.C. region.
And in July — after Nike and Amazon said they would no longer sell the team’s gear on their sites and after team officials announced a thorough review to study the name — the ground shifted and “never” finally came: The old name was no more.
To start with, the team settled on a placeholder name, simply “Washington Football Team.” But the basic moniker has taken root.
Xiao Qi Ji, the National Zoo’s latest giant panda cub, is seen here on Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020. (Courtesy Smithsonian’s National Zoo/Roshan Patel)
It’s a boy!
It turned out 2020 had a few nice surprises in store for us — or at least one: The birth of the new panda cub at the National Zoo.
Word came in August that giant panda matriarch Mei Xiang could be pregnant — but there’d been false alarms before — and, besides, at 22, she would be the oldest giant panda in North America to give birth.
In the months since, viewers glued to the livestream have watched the pink, hairless creature about the size of a stick of butter develop into an adorable ball of fluff — 21.2 inches long from nose-tip to tail and 13.4 pounds at last checkup — and even begin to take his first steps.
Still, all good things must come to an end. Earlier this month, zoo officials said that a long-running agreement with Chinese wildlife officials would be extended for a few more years but that come the end of 2023, the little guy as well as his parents — Mei Xiang and pop, Tian Tian, who have lived at the zoo since 2000 — would be headed back to China.
U.S. Route 50 was flooded and completely impassable east of Kenilworth Avenue hours after heavy rain on Thursday, Sept. 10, 2020. (WTOP/Dave Dildine)
Weather’s always a big deal around here. Why else would we bring it you every 10 minutes “on the 8s?”
With so many people working remotely amid stay-at-home orders and other coronavirus restrictions, traffic, by and large, wasn’t what it usually is. But the D.C. area still saw its share of wild weather this year.
In early February, a series of winter thunderstorms whipped up a total of five tornadoes across the D.C. region, including one in Loudoun County, Virginia, and two in Montgomery County, Maryland.
The National Weather Service said the sheer number of twisters was “atypical” for February.
In late summer, Tropical Storm Isaias blew through the D.C. region, bringing several inches of rain and flooding and downing trees and power lines. Tragically, one person was killed in St. Mary’s County, Maryland, when a tree fell on her car as she was driving.
But it was a late summer storm that led to some of the most dramatic photos of the year, courtesy of WTOP’s own Dave Dildine.
With the coronavirus pandemic in mind, D.C.-area election officials — and their counterparts across the country — had to work overtime to keep polling places from turning into super-spreader events and the result was: an election like no other.
In the D.C. area, Virginia loosened rules for early voting and saw sky-high turnout from the first day.
In the end, it took a while to count all those absentee ballots — especially in the key battleground states — but when the results were finally in and The Associated Press and other news networks called the election for Democratic challenger Joe Biden, residents of the District were ready to celebrate.
Scenes of jubilation — including more than a few Champagne corks popping — were seen across the city, including on Black Lives Matter Plaza, which had previously been the site of sometimes tense protests over the summer.
In this April 6, 2020 photo, a sign at The Anthem music venue reads “We’ll Get Thru This” at The Wharf, which is almost completely empty because of the coronavirus outbreak in D.C. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Jack Evans, formerly the longest-serving member of the D.C. Council, and once one of the most powerful dealmakers in the District, resigned in January ahead of an expected vote by the other members to expel him amid allegations of ethical misconduct. Evans ran for his old seat just a few months later in the Democratic primary but was handily defeated, finishing seventh out of eight candidates on the ballot.
In October, nearly three years after Northern Virginia accountant Bijan Ghaisar was shot and killed by two U.S. Park Police officers after a low-speed police chase, the two officers were charged in the case. The officers, Alejandro Amaya and Lucas Vinyard, were indicted on manslaughter and firearms charges in Fairfax County. The indictments came after the U.S. Justice Department declined to prosecute the pair.
In October, Pope Francis made history when he named 13 new cardinals — including Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory, whose appointment would make him the first Black American cardinal. The 72-year-old called his appointment a positive gesture, especially for Black Catholics.
WTOP staff and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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