Jan. 16-23, 2021: The Week In Review From WFAE
America Turns A Page. What Comes Next?
This time last week, many Americans were concerned. Concerned about whether violent protests would consume Washington and state capitals. Concerned about what could happen in the waning days of what had been a chaotic four years in the White House. Concerned about how it would all impact the transfer of power.
But when the sun set Wednesday, a new president was in the Oval Office, and there had been no reports of large-scale violence. Things aren't rosy, though. The U.S. has a long road ahead, figuring out how to deal with extremism and the ongoing challenges of the coronavirus pandemic.
Those are challenges that touch nearly every part of America. Charlotte's no exception. A local sports bar made news this past week after a customer reported seeing members of the extremist group the Proud Boys at the establishment. It's a far-right group with white supremacist ties, and some of its members were arrested in connection with the violent riot at the U.S. Capitol earlier this month.
A UNC Charlotte expert calls the group an "alt-right gang," and told WFAE that contrary to what some people may think, the group doesn't just operate in the more rural areas of the country, saying "it's a city issue." But, she said, groups like the Proud Boys aren't necessarily tracked by law enforcement in the same way as other gangs.
Meanwhile, COVID-19 remains unrelenting, having sickened at least 712,716 North Carolinians and left at least 8,586 dead since it was first found in the state last March. Eighty-six of 100 counties are in the "red zone" for critical levels of community spread, and the first case of a more contagious strain of the virus has been found in Mecklenburg County. The good news, of course, is that vaccinations are ongoing — and the state is stepping up its inoculation efforts.
It may take several months to get most people in the state vaccinated, but health officials are urging providers to keep wait lists of eligible residents and "find the closest arm of who wants to get vaccinated" when people on the priority list can't be found right away. The Charlotte region is taking advantage of its biggest sporting venues to host mass-vaccination events. The first opened this weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway, with upwards of 16,000 people signing up.
After all this time, the virus is still upending school for the state's children, teachers and families. On Friday, Mecklenburg health officials reported COVID-19 clusters at Lake Wylie Elementary School in staff members and among the men's basketball teams at North Mecklenburg and Butler high schools. This means there have now been five clusters within Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools since the academic year began. For now, K-12 students in the district remain in remote-learning mode.
In Cabarrus County, though, the district went the opposite direction and resumed in-person classes. Community spread was actually worse in Cabarrus, and county health officials suggested staying remote. But a majority of school board members disagreed, opting to bring students back on a rotation.
"Personally, I feel the safest place in our community is our schools," board member Keshia Sandidge said. "My family contracted COVID and my child wasn't even in school."
In Union County, meanwhile, about 1,000 school district employees were able to get vaccinated Friday and Saturday. The shots were available to staffers 50 and older, though the state changed its guidelines earlier this month to allow residents 65 and up to be vaccinated ahead of younger frontline workers.
Nearly all things of late lead back to Washington. The House of Representatives impeached then-President Trump this month, but now it's up to the Senate to put him on trial. The House plans to send its article of impeachment over to the upper chamber tomorrow, with a trial expected to start Feb. 8.
One of the U.S. senators whose job it will be to watch that trail, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, told the conservative John Locke Foundation last week that he hadn't read the article of impeachment and wouldn't say how he planned to vote. Neither has North Carolina's other senator, Richard Burr. Speaking of Trump, the ex-president issued a slew of pardons on his last full day in office — among them one for Robin Hayes, the former congressman and N.C. GOP chair who just last year pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in a public corruption scandal.
No matter where you stand politically, the U.S. started a new chapter this past week. What comes of it hasn't been written yet. But for now, many people have hope that we as a nation might begin to move forward.
Here's what one Charlotte resident, Julius Bishop, had to say about his hopes for the next four years:
"Right now, we're separated, and it's bad... Anybody can conquer us if we're divided, so hopefully we'll find a way to come together. There's got to be a way to bring everyone back together on one accord."
SPECIAL SERIES: THE HIGH COST OF COVID-19
Women are bearing the brunt of the economic fallout from the pandemic, facing higher unemployment than men. And Black single mothers are particularly vulnerable to job loss, specifically those who don’t have another income to rely on.
Meanwhile, around 120,000 day laborers across the United States wait on streets for employers to offer them a job. Many of them already lived in poverty before the coronavirus pandemic took most of their jobs. Working from home is not an option for them.
LOCAL NEWS YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED
Colonial Pipeline now estimates that nearly 1.2 million gallons of gasoline spilled when a pipeline ruptured in a Huntersville nature preserve last August. It initially estimated 63,000 gallons had spilled.
President Biden is expected to introduce legislation overhauling U.S. immigration laws. It would create an eight-year pathway toward citizenship for qualifying immigrants and increase the number of refugees and asylum-seekers admitted to the U.S.
A long-forgotten mine shaft collapsed in the crawlspace beneath a Charlotte family's home in 2018. The house is now considered unsafe to occupy, and the owners say it will be demolished.
WFAE's Gwendolyn Glenn talked with former Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt about past challenges he endured — and the challenges the U.S. faces today, as armed protests were threatened during President Joe Biden’s inauguration.
Despite issues such as the coronavirus pandemic, the economy and racial injustice, more than 1 million North Carolinians who were eligible to vote decided to take a pass in 2020. WFAE talked to several of them in the Charlotte area to see how they feel now.
The 2020 election was one like no other — the first in modern memory during a deadly pandemic. Election officials had to prepare for record-breaking turnout and adjust for social distancing and changes in how people would cast their ballot.
The news of the day seems just as overwhelming in 2021 as it did in 2020. But there are lots of significant things happening beyond the news that might give us some much-needed peace of mind. WFAE’s Tommy Tomlinson had that experience recently. (Spoiler alert: It involves whales.)
BEST OF CHARLOTTE TALKS
Donald Trump was a master at framing his own message and getting it out on various platforms until he was de-platformed following the Capitol riot. Some have said removing his social media accounts was censorship. Was it? We talked about it with some First Amendment experts.
HAVE YOU HEARD?
Andra Gillespie is director of the James Weldon Johnson Institute for the Study of Race and Difference at Emory University in Atlanta. Gillespie writes and teaches about race and American politics. As you can imagine, these past four years she’s been busy. In the latest SouthBound, she talks about our current world of politics and where we're headed from here.