Off-duty police officer mistakenly enters neighbor’s apartment and shoots its owner to death

Year
2018
Month Day
September 06

On September 6, 2018 an off-duty Dallas police officer fatally shoots an unarmed Black man in the victim’s own apartment. 

Returning to her apartment complex in Dallas, Texas, police officer Amber Guyger entered the apartment of Botham Jean, believing it to be her own. The apartment door was ajar, she later testified, and when she entered she found a man inside. She fired her weapon, killing him.

Guyger was not arrested until three days later and was originally charged with manslaughter, rousing the anger of the public. She was eventually charged with murder. 

Guyger claimed that exhaustion after a 13-hour shift caused her to mistakenly climb an extra flight of stairs and enter the wrong apartment, where she became frightened when she saw the silhouette of what she believed to be a burglar in what she believed to be her home. She also claimed that told him to raise his hands and that he began to move toward her before she shot him in the chest. 

Prosecutors, however, argued that Guyger could hardly have confused a different door with a different doormat on a different level of the complex for her own, that Jean’s behavior—he was sitting on the couch eating ice cream—bore no resemblance to that of a burglar, and that Guyger broke police protocol by entering the apartment and firing her gun rather than calling for backup from the nearby police station.

Despite the judge’s decision to allow the jury to consider the “castle doctrine,” a Texas statute that justifies deadly force in defense of one’s home, the jury found Guyger guilty of murder, a charge she appealed. Guyger was the first Dallas police officer to be convicted of murder since 1973. 

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5-day long Russo-Georgian War begins

Year
2008
Month Day
August 08

On August 8, 2008, a long-simmering conflict between Russia and Georgia boiled over into a shooting war between the small Caucasian nation and the superpower of which it was once a part. The brief Russo-Georgian War was the most violent episode in a conflict that began more than a decade before.

Georgia declared independence from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics as the latter was breaking up in 1991. A short time later, pro-Russian separatists took control of two regions composing a combined 20 percent of Georgia’s territory, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. A stalemate ensued. In 2008, American President George W. Bush announced his support for Georgia’s and Ukraine’s membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a move that Russia viewed as tantamount to putting a hostile military on its borders. Relations between Russia and Georgia had already been tense, with the aggressive Vladimir Putin in power in Russia and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili declaring his intent to bring Abkhazia and South Ossetia back under Georgian control.

After accusations of aggression from both sides throughout the spring and summer, South Ossetian troops violated the ceasefire by shelling Georgian villages on August 1. Sporadic fighting and shelling ensued over the coming days, until Saakashvili declared a ceasefire on August 7. Just before midnight, seeing that the separatists would not, in fact, cease firing, Georgia’s military launched an attack on Tskhinvali in South Ossetia. Russian troops had already entered South Ossetia—illegally—and responded quickly to the Georgian attack. As Georgian troops seized Tskhinvali, the fighting spilled over into Abkhazia. The initial Georgian advance was repulsed, however, and within a few days Russia seized most of the disputed territory and was advancing into Georgia proper. The two sides agreed to a ceasefire in the early hours of August 13.

In the aftermath of the war, Russia formally recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. Russia subsequently occupied them, in violation of the ceasefire. Russia conducted a similar maneuver in Ukraine in 2014, annexing the Crimean Peninsula and backing separatists in the west of the country. The Russo-Georgian War displaced an estimated 192,000 people, many of whom fled ethnic cleansing of Georgians in the separatist territories.

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Eric Garner dies in NYPD chokehold

Year
2014
Month Day
July 17

On July 17, 2014, two New York Police Department officers confront Eric Garner, a 43-year-old African American father of six, for illegally selling cigarettes. Garner dies after losing consciousness as a police officer locks him in an illegal chokehold, and within hours, a video of the incident begins to spark outrage across the country.

Garner was known as a “neighborhood peacemaker” in his Staten Island community, and was also well-known to the police for selling cigarettes illegally near the ferry terminal on Staten Island. 

Officers Daniel Pantaleo and Justin D’Amico, called to the scene because of a fight that Garner reportedly broke up, exchanged words with Garner about his cigarettes before Pantaleo reached around Garner’s neck and put him in a chokehold, despite such a maneuver being against NYPD rules

Pinned to the ground by the officers, Garner repeatedly told them, “I can’t breathe.” Eventually, he lost consciousness. He was pronounced dead at a hospital roughly an hour later, and the medical examiner ruled his death a homicide by suffocation.

Footage of the incident quickly went viral. There were protests in the days following Garner’s death, but it was a grand jury’s decision not to indict Pantaleo on December 3 that sparked large demonstrations in New York City and elsewhere across the country. 

Garner’s last words, “I can’t breathe,” became a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement. The police officer whose chokehold led to Garner’s death in 2014 was fired from the Police Department in 2019 and stripped of his pension benefits.

The following year, when New York State repealed its ban on publicizing police disciplinary records, it was revealed that Pantaleo had been investigated for misconduct seven times in the five years before Garner’s death.

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Construction on Global Seed Vault begins

Year
2006
Month Day
June 15

On June 15, 2006, on the remote island of Spitsbergen halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole, the prime ministers of Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Iceland lay the ceremonial first stone of the Global Seed Vault. The vault, which now has the capacity to hold 2.25 billion seeds, is intended to “provide insurance against both incremental and catastrophic loss of crop diversity.”

Managed jointly by the Global Crop Diversity Trust (the Crop Trust), the Nordic Genetic Resource Center (NordGen), and the Norwegian government, the Seed Vault grew out of several different efforts to preserve specimens of the world’s plants. Its location, deep within a high mountain on an island covered by permafrost, is ideal for cold storage and will protect the seeds even in the event of a major rise in sea levels. The enormous vault, where seeds can be stored in such a way that they remain viable for decades or even centuries, opened in 2008.

According to the Crop Trust, the seed vault is meant to preserve crop diversity and contribute to the global struggle to end hunger. As rising temperatures and other aspects of climate change threaten the Earth’s plants, there is risk of not only losing species but also becoming overly reliant on those that remain, making humanity more vulnerable and increasing food insecurity. Scientists also strive to create newer, more resilient varieties of crops that already exist, and the seed bank functions as a reserve from which they can draw for experimental purposes. 

READ MORE: Climate Change History

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Paris Agreement comes into effect

Year
2016
Month Day
November 04

On November 4, 2016, the Paris Agreement comes into effect. A sweeping international pledge to dramatically reduce carbon emissions, the Agreement remains a potential turning point in the history of human relations with the Earth’s climate. With one of the world’s most prolific polluters bowing out, however, the future and effectiveness of the deal remain uncertain.

The agreement’s goal was to keep the global average temperatures from rising by more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by dramatically reducing carbon emissions, and to aim for an increase of fewer than 1.5 degrees. Small island nations were particularly vocal in insisting on the 1.5-degree target, as they are the most at risk to any change in the sea level. While some felt these goals were too lofty, as global temperatures in 2016 were already 1.3 degrees C above pre-industrial levels, many argued that the agreement did not go far enough, and that allowing each country to set its own goals rendered it toothless. Nonetheless, it was historic when the world’s largest emitters—China, the United States, the European Economic Area and India—all agreed to set new goals for lower emissions. After the European Union ratified the treaty on October 5, the Paris Climate Agreement had enough signatures to go into effect on November 4.

People the world over hailed the Agreement as an unprecedented victory for the environment, as did the leaders who signed it. In the United States, however, President Barack Obama’s victory turned out to be short-lived. Five days after the Agreement went into effect, Donald Trump won the election to succeed Obama. Less than a year later, on June 1, 2017, Trump officially announced the end of the United States’ participation in the agreement.

Technically, the earliest date the U.S. can withdraw is November 4, 2020, the day after the next presidential election. Still, the world’s second-largest emitter’s decision not to participate was a massive blow to the international deal. So far, 24 states, Puerto Rico, and American Samoa have opted to hold themselves to the Paris standards, and the other signatories have remained committed to the deal.

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Bald Eagle removed from list of threatened species

Year
2007
Month Day
June 28

On June 28, 2007, the United States removes one of its most commonly-used national symbols from its List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife. The de-listing of the bald eagle, which had been close to vanishing from North America around the middle of the 20th century, was one of the most notable wildlife rehabilitation efforts in American history.

Sacred to some indigenous American cultures, the bald eagle is the national bird of the United States and features prominently in its iconography. Despite its significance, the bird’s population declined rapidly over the first half of the 20th century. Use of the common pesticide DDT, which negatively affects bald eagles’ fertility and the strength of their egg shells, was a major factor in this decline, but there were a variety of others, including hunting, poaching, electrocution by power line, pollution, and the destruction of large swathes of their natural habitat. The overall population in the lower 48 states, estimated to have been around 400,000 in the 1700s, had declined to fewer than 1,000 by the 1950s.

READ MORE: How Did the Bald Eagle Become America’s National Bird?

Congress banned the commercial trapping and killing of bald eagles in 1940, strengthening restrictions in the 60s and 70s. The ban of DDT use in the U.S. in 1972, and its heavy restriction in Canada, also helped revive the species, as did the protective powers afforded the government by the 1973 Endangered Species Act. Some estimates hold that there are now over 100,000 bald eagles in Alaska, while 23 of the lower 48 states are now home to 100 or more breeding pairs. After being reclassified from “endangered” to “threatened” in 1985, the bald eagle’s de-listing in 2007 represented a major victory for wildlife preservationists. 

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16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg named Time’s Person of the Year

On December 13, 2019, 16-year-old Greta Thunberg is named Time magazine’s Person of the Year. The Swedish climate activist became the first Person of the Year to be born in the 21st century and the youngest ever to receive the honor.

Thunberg took to activism early, convincing her parents to become vegans, reduce their carbon footprint and avoid flying. In 2018, inspired by teenage gun control activists in the United States, she began a school strike that spread across Sweden and to other European countries. Before long, Thunberg was giving speeches throughout Europe and had become one of the most recognizable faces of climate activism. Thunberg delivered her message with a sense of urgency—”Our house is on fire,” she said—that struck a chord with the public, particularly because it came from a child.

In August 2019, Thunberg sailed a solar-powered racing yacht across the Atlantic Ocean to promote carbon-neutral transit. After arriving in New York, she testified before the United States Congress and the U.N. Climate Action Summit, where she was characteristically blunt: “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”

Though Thunberg’s message and mannerisms offended many on the right, her activism has made waves the world over. The Time cover announcing her as Person of the Year also touted “The Power of Youth,” presaging the advent of the Sunrise Movement and other youth-led climate activism in the United States and across the world.

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U.S. media release graphic photos of American soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib

Year
2004
Month Day
April 30

On April 30, 2004, the CBS program 60 Minutes reports on abuse of prisoners by American military forces at Abu Ghraib, a prison in Iraq. The report, which featured graphic photographs showing U.S. military personnel torturing and abusing prisoners, shocked the American public and greatly tarnished the Bush Administration and its war in Iraq.

Amnesty International had surfaced many of the allegations in June of 2003, not long after the United States invaded Iraq and took over Abu Ghraib, which soon became the largest American prison in Iraq. As the 60 Minutes report and subsequent investigations proved, torture quickly became commonplace at Abu Ghraib. Photographs depicted American soldiers sexually assaulting detainees, threatening them with dogs, putting them on leashes and engaging in a number of other practices that clearly constituted torture and/or violations of the Geneva Convention. 

In at least one instance, the Army tortured a prisoner to death. President George W. Bush assured the public that the instances of torture were isolated, but as the scandal unfolded it became clear that, in the words of an International Committee of the Red Cross official, there was a “pattern and a broad system” of abuse throughout the Department of Defense. Torture techniques, which the CIA and military often referred to as “enhanced interrogation,” had in fact been developed at sites like the Guantanamo Bay detention center and were routinely employed in Iraq, at Guantanamo, and at other “black sites” around the world.

In June of 2004, it was revealed that the Bush Administration—specifically Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo—had not only been aware of widespread torture but had secretly developed a legal defense attempting to exempt the United States from the Geneva Convention. A 2006 court decision subsequently ruled that the Geneva Convention did apply to all aspects of the “War on Terror.” 

Eleven soldiers were eventually convicted by military courts of crimes committed at Abu Ghraib, while Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, who had been in charge there, was merely demoted. Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld apologized for the abuses, but Bush did not accept Rumsfeld’s offer to resign. Yoo went on to teach at Berkeley Law and is a Visiting Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. In the years after the revelations, legal scholars have repeatedly suggested that Bush, Rumsfeld and soldiers who carried out the abuses at Abu Ghraib could be prosecuted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court. 

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Arctic shipping lane opens due to ice melt; cargo ship completes the journey

Year
2018
Month Day
September 28

On September 28, 2018, the cargo ship Venta Maersk docks in St. Petersburg, Russia, more than a month after departing from Vladivostok on the other side of the country. The successful traversal of the Russian Arctic was a landmark moment for the international shipping industry, as well as a sobering reminder of the extent to which the Earth’s ice caps had melted.

The search for a fast way to move cargo from one end of Eurasia to the other by sea had begun centuries ago, and was a major driver of European exploration of North America. Until the 2000s, the fastest means of making the journey was to go around South Asia and reach Europe via the Suez Canal. As climate change led to a decrease in ice around the North Pole, however, opportunities arose to for shipping companies to use waters that were previously impossible to navigate.

The Venta was not the first ship to make the journey through the Russian Arctic, and it needed assistance from an icebreaker for several days. The Northern Sea Route, as it is commonly called, is still not a regular shipping lane, and it is only usable by “ice-class” ships like the Venta. Nonetheless, the Venta’s journey, and shipping companies’ recent investment in building more vessels capable of repeating it, signal that climatologists and businesspeople alike believe it’s a safe bet that Arctic ice will continue to melt.

READ MORE: Climate Change History

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GE finally initiates cleanup of polluted Hudson River

Year
2009
Month Day
May 15

After decades of environmental damage and legal wrangling, General Electric finally begins its government-mandated efforts to clean the Hudson River on May 15, 2009. One of America’s largest and most prestigious corporations, GE had dumped harmful chemicals into the river for years and spent a fortune trying to avoid the cleanup.

GE’s plants at Hudson Falls and Port Edward, two towns in upstate New York, dumped polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), a harmful compound manufactured for GE by Monsanto, into the Hudson from 1947 to 1977. The State of New York banned fishing in the Upper Hudson in 1976 due to the pollution, and in 1984 a roughly 200-mile stretch of the river was declared a Superfund site, requiring GE to pay for the cleanup. Via lawsuits, lobbying efforts, and public relations campaigns, GE fought back until 2002, when the Environmental Protection Agency announced a final decision that the corporation would, in fact, have to foot the bill. Even then, GE dragged its feet for seven years before dredging finally began.

The dredging, which cost GE $1.6 billion, lasted from 2009 until 2015. By all accounts, significant progress was made, and observers have applauded the return of some of the river’s wildlife. Still, few believe that GE truly cleaned up its mess. Despite the removal of 3 million cubic yards of contaminated sediments, the state has challenged the EPA’s assertion that GE held up its end of the bargain, pointing to studies that show significant levels of PCBs in the Hudson. The state still warns children and those who may bear children against eating fish and other wildlife caught in the Hudson, advising adult men to limit their consumption, as well as counseling citizens to try to avoid swallowing the river’s water.

READ MORE: The Shocking River Fire That Fueled the Creation of the EPA

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