The year 2015 was filled with news stories that shocked me, captivated me, horrified me, or made me smile. As we enter this new year, I thought I'd take a look back at some of the news stories that captured my attention. Here are my top 7 picks of 2015 (my apologies as many of these stories are US-centric):
1. Paris Terror Attacks
Source: IB Times
For me, the most compelling story of 2015 were the Paris terror attacks, which took place on the evening of November 13, 2015. In a coordinated attack, a group of terrorists targeted several locations within the city of Paris: suicide bombers struck the Stade de France sports stadium and the Comptoir Voltaire café, while several gunmen attacked three restaurants and the Bataclan concert venue. By the end of the night, 130 people would be killed and approximately 360 people would be injured.
A senseless tragedy at the hands of people who would stop at nothing to further their insane and extreme ideology.
I feel guilty saying these attacks were the most compelling because there were so many people lost to terror attacks throughout the world in 2015. Their deaths were no less compelling and tragic. However, for some reason what happened in Paris, in particular the massacre at the Bataclan theater, really struck a personal chord with me. Perhaps it's because I myself am a concert hound. I'm a huge music lover and have attended many concerts in my time. I guess I put myself in the shoes of those people who were at that venue simply to spend an evening listening to great music and have a joyous time with friends. It was such a happy and benign way to spend an evening.
2. Same-Sex Marriage Legalized in the United States
On June 26, 2015, the United States Supreme Court voted to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide. As Justice Kennedy wrote in his opinion:
"the nature of marriage is that, through its enduring bond, two persons together can find other freedoms, such as expression, intimacy, and spirituality. This is true for all persons, whatever their sexual orientation. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage.
Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization's oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right."
Before the ruling, same-sex marriages were recognized in only 37 out of 50 States.
As is to be expected, this landmark and controversial decision was met with both cheers and celebration, and jeers and disapproval.
Personally, I'm in the cheers and celebration camp.
3. Death of Aylan Kurdi
Source: Defend International
For many, the haunting image of the little body of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi lying on a beach in Turkey (which I will not post here for obvious reasons) punctuated the European refugee crisis. Aylan, his brother, and mother drowned when their boat capsized off the coast of Turkey. The family had been trying to reach the Greek island of Kos after fleeing war-torn Syria.
The image went viral and sparked controversy over the European response to the refugee crisis. As reported by CNN, Nadim Houry, Human Rights Watch deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, called it the "[b]iggest indictment of collective failure."
As BBC reports, "more than a million migrants and refugees crossed into Europe in 2015, sparking a crisis as countries struggle to cope with the influx, and creating division in the EU over how best to deal with resettling people."
4. Death of Freddie Gray
Source: The Washington Post
On April 12, 2015, 25-year-old Freddie Gray was arrested in the US city of Baltimore, Maryland for carrying an illegal switchblade (the legality of the knife is now being disputed). Gray was then grievously injured while in police custody. He died 7 days later from his injuries.
According to the medical examiner, who ruled his death a homicide, Gray died from "a single 'high-energy injury' to his neck and spine — most likely caused when the police van in which he was riding suddenly decelerated." Many speculated that this injury was a result of a "rough ride": an illegal tactic used by police officers in which a suspect is handcuffed or shackled, placed in a car or van, and then made to suffer an intentionally rough or bumpy ride where they cannot protect themselves from injury.
His death sparked numerous protests calling for justice and an end to police brutality. In May 2015, criminal charges were filed against six of the arresting officers. The charges included involuntary manslaughter, manslaughter by vehicle, and depraved-indifference murder.
This case once again brought to the forefront in the US the issue of institutional racism, and the use of excessive and lethal force by law enforcement officers against black men. According to a study done by the Guardian, black men in the US were nine times more likely than other Americans to be killed by police officers in 2015. The study found that "African American males between the ages of 15 and 34 comprised more than 15% of all deaths logged this year by an ongoing investigation into the use of deadly force by police."
5. Charleston, South Carolina Church Shooting
On June 17, 2015, 21-year-old white supremacist Dylan Roof entered the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, South Carolina, sat quietly with a bible study group for several minutes, then stood up and opened fire with a Glock 41 .45-caliber handgun. Within minutes, 9 of the 13 bible study members would be dead.
The shooting sparked nationwide outrage, and further ignited ongoing debates within the US related to both the issues of racism, and gun ownership rights.
Sadly, the Charleston shooting was only one of 372 mass shootings in the United States in 2015. As reported by PBS News Hour, "according to the Tracker’s data, which defines a mass shooting as an incident in which at least four people are killed, there were 372 mass shootings in the U.S. in 2015, killing 475 and wounding 1,870."
6. The Escape of Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán
Source: US Drug Enforcement Agency
On July 11, 2015, the notorious leader of the Mexican Sinaloa drug cartel, Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, escaped from a federal maximum-security Mexican prison. What made this escape incredible was that Guzmán fled through a mile-long underground tunnel leading from the shower stall of his prison cell to a partially constructed house located on an open field. It was something out of a movie. The tunnel contained air ducts for ventilation, electricity, and a customized motorcycle fitted onto rail-like tracks.
It is estimated that construction of the the tunnel took up to one year, and cost somewhere in the vicinity of $5 million.
Many believe that prison guards were paid by "El Chapo" to either aid or turn a blind eye to his escape. Some also believe that members of the Mexican government were involved.
To date, Guzmán has managed to evade law enforcement authorities. The United States Drug Enforcement Agency is currently offering a $5 million reward for information leading to his capture and conviction.
On a personal note, not sure who would be crazy enough to collect on this reward as "El Chapo" is one of the most powerful and deadliest drug lords in the world. These people would kill your entire family, your dog, and your neighbors. It is reported that Guzmán has claimed to have killed up to 3000 people. The exact number is not officially known.
7. New Horizons Pluto Flyby
On July 14, 2015, NASA's New Horizons probe performed the very first flyby of Pluto. A historic achievement. The probe captured amazing images, giving us our first-ever clear look at the dwarf planet. The probe traveled for 9 1/2 years, and a total of 3 billion miles. The flyby itself took approximately 3 minutes.
Fun Fact: the probe carries the ashes of Clyde Tombaugh, the astronomer who discovered Pluto in 1930.
The flyby will help scientists understand the icy bodies located at the edges of our solar system. As explained by NASA, "these objects are believed to be representative of the material which condensed to form the other planets. Their growth into full sized planets was arrested early in the history of the solar system. Hence they hold clues about the distant past of the solar system and the chemical endowment of all the planets including our Earth."
New Horizons is now on its way deeper into the Kuiper Belt, located at the edge of our solar system:
Source: Amazing Space