Beyond San Antonio: Another Year of War, Violence and Mayhem

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Gabrielle Jeanblanc (left) and Lucile Watel are two of the many that sung the National Anthem of France, La Marseillaise. Photo by Scott Ball.

Gabrielle Jeanblanc (left) and Lucile Watel sing the National Anthem of France, "La Marseillaise" during a show of solidarity with France after the Paris terror attacks. Photo by Scott Ball.

For many of us, too much of the national and international news in 2015 was about man and woman at their worst: acts of terror and mass killings in Paris, the Middle East and even San Bernardino, Calif. Muslim fundamentalists executing innocent civilians and hostages, sending out suicide bombers to detonate in public places, and cruelly subjugating civilian populations wherever they exerted control.

An embattled Syrian government continued to drop barrel bombs on its own civilian population in areas with rebel strongholds. Russia entered the war of proxies already being waged by the United States, France and Great Britain, among others, although Russia and the U.S.-led coalition found themselves at odds in waging their air wars, each acting with different political purpose.

The world, mostly European nations, struggled to meet the worst refugee crisis in memory as millions of Syrians and Africans fled conflict or were displaced by civil war and sought refuge in overwhelmed camps, or risked death at sea to reach Europe. In the United States, Republican governors, party leaders in Washington, and presidential candidates declared Syrian refugees unwelcome in the United States.

Syrian woman in the camp for displaced persons in Qatma, Syria. Getty Images.

A Syrian woman in the camp for displaced persons in Qatma, Syria. Getty Images.

It appears that President Obama, now in his last year in office, will not fulfill two key goals of his foreign policy agenda: bringing home U.S. troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, and closing the prison at Guantanamo, where more than 100 accused terrorists among the original 500-plus detaineesremain in custody with no prospect of due process or a fair trial.

Mass killings struck the United States again and again, even as efforts by President Obama and others to place tighter controls on gun and ammunition sales failed. Nine people died when a 21-year-old loner and white supremacist with the improbable name of Dylann Storm Roof opened fire in an historic African-American church in Charleston, S.C. in June. Roof was detained after an intense manhunt.

Less than one month later, a gunman named Mohammod Youssuf Abdulazeez, 24, killed four Marines, one Navy sailor, and wounded three others inside a military recruiting center and at a Navy-Marine training facility a few miles away in Chattanooga, Tenn., before he was shot and killed.

In October, Christopher Harper-Mercer, a 26-year-old white supremacist who legally bought 14 guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition, shot and killed eight fellow students and a teacher at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Ore. before killing himself as police and deputies closed in.

Robert Lewis Dear, a 57-year-old anti-abortion “warrior for the babies,” opened fire in late November at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colo., killing a police officer, an Iraq war veteran and a woman accompanying a friend to the clinic. The attack was the worst of multiple violent attacks aimed at abortion providers across the country. Elected officials in Texas and other states targeted Planned Parenthood with legal actions that clinic supporters described as political abuses of office designed to intimidate and damage family service providers.

A man kneels down while resting his feet on a pro-life sign. Photo by Scott Ball.

A man kneels down while resting his feet on a “Pray to End Abortion” sign during a protest at a Planned Parenthood clinic in San Antonio. Photo by Scott Ball.

Days later, U.S.-born Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife, Pakistan national Tashfeen Malik, opened fire at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, Calif., leaving 14 dead and 21 wounded. Federal and local authorities missed social media postings and other evidence that the married couple had radicalized and pledged allegiance to The Islamic State, or ISIS, while amassing an arsenal of weapons, ammunition, pipe bombs and combat gear.

At the same time, the headlines reported a seemingly endless number of incidents involving police fatally shooting unarmed civilians across the country. Police shot and killed 1,125 people in the United States in 2015, a statistic compiled not by the federal government but by the Guardian newspaper in London. Editors there said their efforts tracking such shootings has led the Bureau of Justice Statistics to start amassing such numbers for the first time.

The story of police shootings of unarmed citizens was both a national and local story. The growing use of smart phones to record videos of police confrontations and post them on the Internet has brought intensifying scrutiny of law enforcement shootings, and in  turn, has led more and more police departments to purchase body cameras to record serious confrontations and pursuits.

San Antonio was one of the cities to embrace body cameras for its police and sheriff’s deputies, before and again after an August incident when individuals with cell phone cameras captured videos of deputies fatally shooting a troubled man holding a knife after responding to a domestic violence call. There is some evidence the individual might have wanted to provoke the shooting to commit what has been termed “suicide by police.” No charges were filed in the shooting.

Not all the news was about violence.

Andy Jo Lopez kisses Eriq Chatman in the street.  Photo by Matthew Busch.

Andy Jo Lopez kisses Eriq Chatman in the street. Photo by Matthew Busch.

In June, a deeply-divided Supreme Court handed down a landmark ruling that same-sex couples have a right to marry, forcing Texas and 13 other holdout states to finally issue them marriage licenses.

As the year came to a close, officials from 195 nations attending the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris signed a landmark agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to prevent the most dire consequences of global warming and climate change. The issue shaped up to be a major point of contention in the 2016 U.S. presidential race with Republican candidates generally opposing any measures to control emissions, which they believe will be detrimental to business. Democrats embraced the new accord, which they say will lead to economic growth, encourage new technology development, an accelerated use of wind, solar and alternate energy sources, and a decrease in the use of carbon fuels.

Hillary Clinton speaks to hundreds in attendance at Sunset Station. Photo by Scott Ball.

Hillary Clinton speaks to thousands of supporters at Sunset Station in 2015. Photo by Scott Ball.

Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton appears on her way to winning her party’s nomination. A large group of Republicans keep lining up for televised debates even as billionaire real estate developer and reality television impresario Donald Trump continues to dominate the polls and the front pages with his nationalist rhetoric and often outrageous pronouncements. Mainstream Republican candidates, notably former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, have shown little progress in denting Trump’s popularity.

The U.S. Women’s National Team won the World Cup in Calgary in July, drawing a U.S. television audience of 25 million, the most ever to watch a soccer match.

On the business front, it was a bad year for commodities in general, and Big Oil in particular, as prices dropped from $110 a barrel high in mid-2014 to less than $37 a barrel by year’s end.

Volkswagen suffered a major hit to its reputation as an automaker after it admitted a systematic disabling of fuel emission equipment on more than 11 million diesel-powered vehicles by its deceptive software engineers. The admission is expected to cost VW tens of billions of dollars in recalls, lost sales and penalties, and has threatened the German company’s worldwide ranking as a top automaker.

Big mergers dominated the headlines: Dow Chemical and Dupont, Miller and Budweiser, Pfizer and Allergan, and Walgreens and RiteAid. Tech companies continued to disrupt traditional businesses. The importance of data protection and cybersecurity grew dramatically amid more and more data breaches, hacking attacks, and the prospect of cyber warfare becoming a more threatening practice by superpowers and rogue nations.

For consumers, gas prices at the pump fell for a second year, falling below $1.70 in San Antonio before Christmas. That’s half of what people were paying at the start of 2014. The cost of borrowing money to buy a new car or a home remained low, but the Federal Reserve finally raised interest rates in December for the first time in several years.

Unemployment rates continued to fall nationally and in Texas; San Antonio was a low 3.8% at year’s end.

Even in an age of streaming and viewing content on demand, people still go to the movies. The new film “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” set a new box office record just before Christmas with more than $500 million in ticket sales in the opening weekend.

Star Wars fans prepare to walk to The Alamo from Hemisfair Park. Photo by Michael Cirlos.

Star Wars fans gather at The Tower of the Americas. Photo by Michael Cirlos.

There was the usual stream of celebrity news: Most listeners might download or stream their music these days, many without paying for it, but Adele sold five million copies of her third album released in November, breaking the record set by, um, Adele in 2011. Bruce Jenner became Caitlyn Jenner and the world’s most famous transgender cover person, at least for now.

Comedian Bill Cosby’s  reputation was in tatters as dozens more women came forward with charges that he drugged them to engage in sex acts without their consent. This week prosecutors in Philadelphia became the first nationwide to act on the charges and charge Cosby with felony sexual assault.

Finally, the year ended on a most hopeful note. United Nations health officials announced that the Ebola outbreak had been contained in three West African nations, where the virus killed hundreds and affected millions there and around the world, after officials at the World Health Organization were slow to understand the scope of the crisis.

 

*Top image: Gabrielle Jeanblanc (left) and Lucile Watel sing the National Anthem of France, “La Marseillaise” in Main Plaza during a show of solidarity with France after the Paris terror attacks.  Photo by Scott Ball. 

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