Museum of America in the Pandemic Year, 2020

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Dec 15:The FDA approves the emergency use of the 1st at-home COVID-19 test. Mail carriers struggle under the high amounts of online shopping. People in Mar-a-lago, Florida, move to block Trump from moving there. 

Dec 16: The vaccine distribution effort continues to ramp up. The U.S. sees the biggest annual jump in the poverty rate in 60 years.

Dec 17: California hospitals are overwhelmed, again, with COVID cases.  885,000 Americans file new jobless claims. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says that “we can say pretty clearly that it was the Russians that engaged” in a recently discovered cyberattack that breached dozens of federal agencies and companies.

Dec 18:   The FDA has now signed off on Emergency Use Agreements for the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines and issues the second EUA, allowing shipments of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to begin. 

Dec 19: Trump suggests that China, not Russia, could be behind the recent cyberattack on federal agencies, then tweets, “Statistically impossible to have lost the 2020 Election. Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!”

Dec 20: Lawmakers finally reach deal on $900 billion COVID-19 relief package.  U.S. airport holiday traffic is high, despite the risk.

Dec 21: The UK announces that a new strain of the novel coronavirus, B.1.1.7, is spreading across the country. The variant is more contagious, but does not appear to be more lethal or lead to more severe disease. Congress approves the coronavirus relief bill.  President elect, Joe Biden, gets his vaccine on live television.  A House subcommittee subpoenas Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and CDC Director Robert Redfield in an investigation into allegations of political interference at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Virginia removes a Robert E. Lee statue from the National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol, where each state can place two statues. Coronavirus lockdown protesters in Oregon break glass doors at the state capitol building.

From the Cutting Room Floor ...

In the first episode of the hit HBO adaptation of Matt Ruff’s Lovecraft Country, the three main characters, Atticus Freeman, Letitia Lewis, and Uncle George are confronted on the side of a lonely county highway by a sheriff wielding a shotgun. “Do you know what a ‘sundown county’ is?” he asks them. They are Black, he is white; the meaning is clear. They attempt to leave the county immediately, before the sun goes down. The sheriff chases them out, repeatedly ramming their car with his on the way.[1]

On this, the longest night of 2020, an accident on the interstate detoured us through a similarly lonely, pine-enshrouded country road through Cullman County, Alabama, which still claims upwards of 90% white residents—an unusual demographic for the rural South.[2] A sheriff’s SUV, among the only cars we encountered for miles through the forested night, hugged our bumper. When he finally accelerated and passed us in the thick darkness, I exhaled with relief. The policeman probably ran our plates while he was following us. He would have found little of concern in our biographies, being white and middle-class. If we had been someone else, who knows how the evening might have gone. I am aware of the sequence of my thoughts and feelings: first worry that we are in trouble, then a reminder that we are probably fine because of the color of our skin, then guilt and anger at the unfairness of it, then a profound feeling of powerlessness at the way the system continues to work this way, no matter what we do.

Unexpectedly, my daughter broke my tense silence, “Do you think the protests did anything?”

“You mean Black Lives Matter this summer?”

“Yeah.” Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the glow of the sheriff’s taillights in hers. “Do you think we did anything?” she asked again, flatly, “or will it always be white men with guns kneeling on the necks of someone?”

“It’s better than it used to be,” I responded lamely, because I didn’t know what else to say. Because I wanted her to have hope.

Rumor has it that until the Reagan era this county had actual signs posted warning Black folk to get out of town before dark. “The Colony” was the name for the all-Black town nearby the very spot where we are driving that housed Black laborers, many of whom traveled daily to their service jobs in the all-white town of Cullman in groups for protection.[3] That sort of “improvement,” though—the fact that there aren’t explicit “sundown towns” anymore—does that really count as the kinds of substantial progress on racial justice that we were marching for this summer?

Her question made me wonder what has been happening now that BLM no longer occupies headlines. Historically, most steps toward equal justice for African Americans in the United States have been met with what historian Carol Anderson calls “white rage.” It’s similar to what scholars of European history call the “Thermidorian Reaction”—a conservative retrenchment usually accompanied by violence. More than a half-year after protests swelled up from coast-to-coast, what has happened?

The first steps this year were encouraging. The House of Representatives passed the “George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020” by a 236–181 margin in June.[4] Rep. Justin Amash (L-MI) introduced a bill to end the three shields of “qualified immunity,” the judicial policy that keeps police from being held personally liable even if they violate constitutional rights: “(1) the defendant was acting in good faith or believed that his or her conduct was lawful at the time it was committed; (2) the rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution or laws were not clearly established at the time of their deprivation; or (3) the state of the law was such that the defendant could not reasonably have been expected to know whether his or her conduct was lawful.”[5] These three provisions have been used repeatedly to protect cops who use excessive force, even if they kill members of the public without justification.[6]

Numerous states also instituted new laws and procedures around police conduct through 2020.[7] California, New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Colorado, Minnesota, and New Jersey limited or banned chokeholds entirely.[8] A handful of large cities including Seattle, San Francisco, and Washington, DC, prohibited the use of tear gas and other “less lethals” by police.[9] Others instituted reforms like citizen advisory boards, qualified immunity adjustments, and forcing body cameras on all units.[10] Dozens of smaller municipalities, usually with significant populations of racial minorities, made adjustments to policing as well.[11] Earlier this month, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam signed “Breonna’s Law” banning no-knock police warrants. Police gunned down EMT Breonna Taylor in her own Louisville, Kentucky home by mistake nine months ago. Only Florida and Oregon have enacted similar laws. Kentucky itself remains silent.[12]

And that, unfortunately, is the broader pattern.[13] Inaction. Status quo, even after the largest mass protests in American history; even after broad public support for police reform.[14] … The Amash-sponsored qualified immunity bill faded away without so much as a debate. Even “liberal” California skipped on its most common-sense reforms after activists drifted away from the civic process. The spirit for actually legislating apparently felt too laborious compared to being on the streets signaling virtue by shouting and holding signs. Police unions, however, never gave up.[15] From this end-of-year vantage point, it appears that the sound and fury in the name of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rashard Brooks—and almost 100 others just this year—has signified close to nothing.[16]

Actually, not nothing. True to historical tendency in the United States, there has been backlash from the white and the powerful. Cities in the middle of the country are unveiling anti-protesting ordinances making crimes more severe for protesting against police misconduct. …

Dr. King warned that the opposite of hope was apathy. That to give up hope was to give up on racial justice. I want my daughter to have hope, mostly because it’s so easy to be white and apathetic. Just keep doing something, I want to say to her. I’m just not sure what.




[2] Drew Taylor, “‘Lovecraft Country’ and the Dark History of Alabama’s ‘Sundown Towns,’” CBS 42 (blog), August 30, 2020,

[3] Cullman Today, Colony Alabama History with Earlene Johnson, 2018,; Sharon Schuler Kreps, “A Brief History of Colony, Alabama,” The Cullman Tribune (blog), April 7, 2015,

[4] Catie Edmondson, “House Passes Sweeping Policing Bill Targeting Racial Bias and Use of Force,” The New York Times, June 26, 2020, sec. U.S.,

[5] Justin Amash, “Cosponsors – H.R.7085 – 116th Congress (2019-2020): Ending Qualified Immunity Act,”, June 4, 2020, 2019/2020,

[6] Nina Totenberg, “Supreme Court Weighs Qualified Immunity For Police Accused Of Misconduct,”, June 8, 2020,; Rew Chung et al., “For Cops Who Kill, Special Supreme Court Protection,” Reuters, May 8, 2020,

[7] Orion Rummler, “The Major Police Reforms Enacted since George Floyd’s Death,” Axios, October 1, 2020,

[8] Luis Ferré-Sadurní, Jeffery C. Mays, and Ashley Southall, “Defying Police Unions, New York Lawmakers Ban Chokeholds,” The New York Times, June 8, 2020, sec. New York,; T. C. R. Staff, “California Bans Chokeholds, Shuts Juvenile Halls in New Reform Package,” The Crime Report, October 1, 2020,

[9] Daniel Beekman, “Seattle City Council Bans Police Use of Tear Gas and Chokeholds as Protests for Black Lives Continue,” The Seattle Times, June 15, 2020,; Julie Zauzmer and Fenit Nirappil, “D.C. Toughens Officer Hiring and Discipline, as Wave of Police Reform Sweeps the U.S.,” Washington Post, June 9, 2020,

[10] Michael D’Onofrio, “Philly City Council Passes Police Reforms, Shelves Others for the Summer,” Pennsylvania Capital-Star (blog), June 26, 2020,

[11] James Benedetto, “Tuscaloosa Bans Biased Policing, Use of Chokeholds,” Tuscaloosa Thread, September 29, 2020,; Karina Zaiets, Janie Haseman, and Jennifer Borresen, “Cities and States across the US Announce Police Reform Following Demands for Change,” June 19, 2020,

[12] Bill Atkinson, “Breonna Taylor’s Aunt Tells Virginia Bill-Signing Ceremony Her Niece ‘Still Needs Justice,’” Progress-Index, December 7, 2020,

[13] Nolan D. McCaskill, “Police Reforms Stall around the Country, despite New Wave of Activism,” POLITICO, September 23, 2020,

[14] Steve Crabtree, “Most Americans Say Policing Needs ‘Major Changes,’”, July 22, 2020,

[15] Laurel Rosenhall, “California Lawmakers Failed to Enact Sweeping Police Reforms. Here’s Why.,” CalMatters, September 2, 2020,

[16] NewsOne Staff, “97 Black Men And Boys Killed By Police,” NewsOne (blog), December 13, 2020,

Read more
Map of all documented deaths by cop in USA since 2000
Fatal Encounters database of deaths by cop 01/2000-12/2020

“DeSantis proposes bill to crackdown on protesters,” WESH NBC 2 News, September 24, 2020,

Jeff Pegues, “Justice Department reviewing fatal shooting of Black man in Ohio,” CBS Evening News, December 9, 2020,

Blayne Alexander, “Outrage After Ohio Officer Fatally Shoots Black Man Holding Cell Phone,” NBC Nightly News, December 23, 2020,


Peck, Patrice. “The Virus Is Showing Black People What They Knew All Along.” The Atlantic, December 22, 2020.

Bruner, Bethany. “Unarmed Black Man Fatally Shot by Columbus Police Officer Responding to Noise Complaint.” The Columbus Dispatch, December 22, 2020.

Klein, Allison. “Historic D.C. Black Churches Attacked during pro-Trump Rallies Saturday.” Washington Post, December 13, 2020.

Rummler, Orion. “The Major Police Reforms Enacted since George Floyd’s Death.” Axios, October 1, 2020.

Zaiets, Karina, Janie Haseman, and Jennifer Borresen. “Cities and States across the US Announce Police Reform Following Demands for Change.” USA TODAY, June 19, 2020.

D’Onofrio, Michael. “Philly City Council Passes Police Reforms, Shelves Others for the Summer.” Pennsylvania Capital-Star, June 26, 2020.

Zauzmer, Julie, and Fenit Nirappil. “D.C. Toughens Officer Hiring and Discipline, as Wave of Police Reform Sweeps the U.S.” Washington Post, June 9, 2020.

Beekman, Daniel. “Seattle City Council Bans Police Use of Tear Gas and Chokeholds as Protests for Black Lives Continue.” The Seattle Times, June 15, 2020.

Atkinson, Bill. “Breonna Taylor’s Aunt Tells Virginia Bill-Signing Ceremony Her Niece ‘Still Needs Justice.’” Progress-Index, December 7, 2020.

“US Protest Law Tracker.” International Center for Not-For-Profit Law (blog), 2020.

Brown, Alleen. “Powerful Petrochemical Lobbying Group Advanced Anti-Protest Legislation Amid Pandemic.” The Intercept, June 7, 2020.

Allison, Natalie. “Tennessee Legislature Cracks down on Protesters, Making It a Felony to Camp Overnight Outside Capitol.” The Tennessean, August 12, 2020.

Schnelting, Adam. Fleeing Motorist Protection Act, Pub. L. No. HB56 (2020).

Schladen, Marty. “Bill in Ohio House Would Impose Harsh New Penalties on Protesters.” Columbus Underground (blog), November 17, 2020.

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