A popular meme circulating on the Internet proclaims that on January 1, hindsight really will be 2020. Most of us are looking forward to putting the year that finishes today far into the background.
Unfortunately, the extreme challenges of 2020 will continue into the coming year. However, there is cause to believe that the end of the pandemic is near. But what about the other crises of a year now ticking down its final hours?
The human cost of the novel coronavirus has been staggering: 82 million people becoming sick and more than 1.8 million deaths1. But two effective vaccines for COVID-19 are now in place. Thus, there appears to be good hope that we will see relief in the early months of 2021. That doesn’t mean that COVID-19 will be eliminated. Most scientists say the virus will be with us far into the future. It will still claim lives, but nothing on the scale that we have seen in 2020. That will be attributable to a better understanding of the virus and available vaccines.
But the effects of the pandemic will continue to affect us in other ways. Society, the workplace, and personal interaction will likely be permanently altered by lessons learned in response to the pandemic.
Family and Friends
Perhaps the most difficult experiences of 2020 were the restrictions on gathering with friends and family. Although some continued to gather despite health warnings, most Americans self-isolated within household units. Those who chose otherwise often became COVID-19 victims. Misinformed proclamations by a few that “you can’t catch COVID from your own relatives” did nothing for health or safety.
This was particularly apparent during the traditional ‘family holidays’ of Thanksgiving and Christmas. Many people, tired of family isolation, chose to gather for Thanksgiving, despite warnings of the risk. A significant spike in coronavirus infections – and deaths – occurred in the weeks after Thanksgiving. We are yet to see if there is a similar spike attributable to the Christmas holiday.
Those who lost loved ones during the year were some of the most tragically impacted. People often died alone in hospitals – family prohibited from comforting their final hours. Traditional funeral attendance was banned or strictly limited. Airplane and other public transportation restrictions often made it impossible to travel long distances to attend even limited services2.
The Business of Business
Businesses across the country experienced major impacts as a result of the pandemic. In March, government leaders ordered the majority to close their doors. Millions of workers were laid off, and many of those remaining had their work hours cut. Attempts by the federal government to bolster lost wages met with mixed results.
Slowly, most businesses reopened, although with reduced hours and reduced capacity. But many, unable to financially weather the shutdowns, simply closed their doors for good.
On a positive note, business leaders in some sectors discovered that they could continue to function by adopting new approaches. “Zoom Meeting” quickly entered the American lexicon. It proved that collaboration among employees could take place without the venerable conference room.
Most businesses will need occasional face-to-face meetings among employees. But the pandemic has shown that people don’t need to be present in side-by-side cubicles forty hours a week to be productive. The venerable morning commute to a central office may be a thing of the past for many workers. This promises to forever change the American business landscape.
The relationship of America’s police forces and the community, particularly minority communities, has been the subject of study for decades. As early as 1967, President Lyndon Johnson appointed a Blue Ribbon committee to look at police relations with minority communities in the wake of the civil unrest of the 1960s.
Additional studies and experiments led to the establishment of Community Policing in most police departments by the 1990s. However, administrators did not always implement these efforts effectively. Rather than implementing a department-wide philosophy of cooperation between police and the community, many police administrators established “community policing teams.” These small ‘teams’ made token efforts to engage with the community while the bulk of officers continued to operate as they long had.
Then in a period of two months in 2020, two police actions that resulted in the deaths of two African-Americans galvanized large numbers of Americans. People turned out in large numbers to protest – because they could. People who might have only shown “support in spirit” were then out of work because of the response to COVID-19. They were free to join in massive protests against police actions across the country.
To be sure, there were people who took advantage of legitimate protest to commit criminal acts – most notably vandalism and looting. This caused some police over-reaction to legitimate protestors and further widened the gap between police and citizens.
The Whole World is Watching3
Police are under heightened scrutiny almost everywhere, with politicians passing measures to restrict police authority and activity. There were calls to defund police in the spring. Some jurisdictions even made attempts to completely replace police with unarmed ‘community organizers.’
For their part, some police officers still engaged in unacceptable behavior toward citizens, particularly minorities. This, despite knowing that their actions are being watched constantly and often recorded. Such incidents received wide publicity and further inflamed the tensions.
Citizen anger was often directed indiscriminately against police, even the majority who properly engage with citizens. In a notable instance, police and paramedics were pelted by rocks and bottles as they attempted to help a man shot during a protest by another protestor.
Retired police officers weren’t spared. Many retired officers who proudly displayed their former careers through license plates or bumper stickers had their property vandalized. All were guilty by association.
Across the country, numerous police officers – most of whom had done nothing wrong – took early retirement or simply quit. Some cities saw reductions in numbers of officers in double-digit percentage, often further aggravated by budget reductions.
Rising Crime in 2020
Amid this rift between police and communities, crime increased dramatically. Communities felt this most painfully in unprecedented increases in violent crime. Homicides rose dramatically in many large cities in the second half of 2020, often reaching levels previously unseen4. Feelings of frustration over the loss of jobs and the ability to freely associate in response to COVID likely contributed to the violence.
Police officers and investigators, their numbers decreased by officers leaving the department, struggled to arrest those responsible for the violence. Investigative resources were further compromised when large numbers of investigators themselves contracted COVID and were unable to work5.
Police play a vital role in protecting their communities. However, they cannot effectively perform this function without the support of the communities they serve. Police officers across the country, at all ranks, must make it a priority in 2021 to reestablish citizen trust.
The Masked Man (and Woman)
The pandemic also showed Americans what the Japanese have known and practiced for decades – wearing a cloth mask in public helps reduce illness. Mask-wearing sparked political debate, largely due to the American tradition of fighting anything mandated by the government. But many people have seen the benefits beyond protection from COVID.
There will likely be a number of people who continue to wear a mask in public – especially during the cold and flu seasons – simply as personal protection from germs.
2020 has been one of the most turbulent years in recent memory, impacting the lives of the majority of people on earth. However, the unprecedented speed of the development of vaccines to protect against a previously unknown pathogen reinforces our belief that, when people put their minds wholly to a task, there’s little they can’t accomplish.
Future generations will look back on 2020 as a year of great challenges and greater triumphs. The past year’s events will fundamentally change many of our most ingrained perceptions of the ‘right’ way we live and work. But many of those perceptions were overdue for reconsideration.
As Thomas Jefferson wrote to James Madison in 1787, “A little revolution now and then is a good thing.”
What are your perceptions of 2020? Tell us in the comments below.
- “Coronavirus Cases: Worldwide.” Worldometer, Dec 30, 2020, www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/
- In December, I ‘attended’ my sister-in-law’s funeral service via online broadcast because of travel restrictions.
- This chant was first used by protestors at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago to highlight police actions.
- Louisville finished the year with 173 homicides, far eclipsing the previous record of 117, set in 2016. On average, two people were shot by other citizens every day in 2020 in Louisville. More than 25% of people killed in Louisville in 2020 were 18 to 24 years old, and 12% were under the age of 17. Louisville Metro Police also reported that more than 13% of alleged shooters are teens or children.
- Calvert, Scott, and Zusha Elinson. “Police Are Solving Fewer Murders During Covid-19 Pandemic.” The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company, 26 Dec. 2020, www.wsj.com/articles/police-are-solving-fewer-murders-during-covid-19-pandemic-11608994800. Accessed December 28, 2020.