Georgia in 2020: Pandemic, politics, racial justice and the Golden Ray

Part of Golden Ray heads to Louisiana as crews start cutting stern of ship

The coronavirus pandemic and its imprint on politics, education, work and society in all corners of Georgia made headlines throughout most of 2020. But the year also included the high-stakes November election and early voting in a pair of Senate run-off elections that cast a white-hot spotlight on Georgia. Two high-profile killings drew sharp attention to racial justice issues in a year that also saw the passing of civil rights icon John Lewis. And more than a year after the Golden Ray overturned in the channel to the port of Brunswick, work began to cut it up and haul it away.

A look at the top 10 stories in Georgia in 2020:

COVID-19 changes everything

The coronavirus pandemic invades all aspects of life in Georgia. Large festivals, church services and other events are canceled as restaurants and other small businesses struggle to bring in customers. Major corporations shift to remote work when possible, and the lives of parents and their children are disrupted as schools close and learning shifts online. The pandemic also causes political upheaval in Georgia, as Gov. Brian Kemp faces sharp criticism for not imposing the kind of severe restrictions several other states have implemented. New cases and deaths surge during the summer months, and begin spiking again in the fall, leading to a record number of people with confirmed infections hospitalized by mid-December.

Georgia turns blue?

Former Vice President Joe Biden becomes the first Democratic presidential nominee to win Georgia since 1992, defeating President Donald Trump. The president claims there was widespread voting fraud in the state. He blasts Republican officials, including Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Gov. Brian Kemp, accusing them of failing to take appropriate action. Raffensperger insists there was no evidence of systemic fraud. Votes in the presidential race are recounted multiple times, with recounts affirming Biden’s win. Trump and his allies file numerous lawsuits alleging the election outcome was tainted by fraud, but fail to convince any court to take action.

Senate in the balance

Dual runoffs for two U.S. Senate seats are further evidence that Georgia is now a battleground after nearly two decades of Republican dominance. The two races, set to be decided Jan. 5, focus attention on Georgia as the outcome will determine the balance of power in the Senate. Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler is being challenged by the Rev. Raphael Warnock, a Democrat, in one runoff. The other features Republican Sen. David Perdue and Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff. Early voting began this month, and a significant portion of the votes are expected to be cast this year.

Ahmaud Arbery chased, killed

The slaying of Ahmaud Arbery by armed white men adds fuel to a national outcry over killings of unarmed Black men. In coastal Georgia, more than two months passed before authorities charge Gregory McMichael and his adult son, Travis McMichael, in Arbery’s death. Also charged was William ``Roddie’' Bryan, whose cellphone video of the shooting became public right before arrests were made in May. The McMichaels armed themselves and chased after Arbery in a truck after they saw him running in their neighborhood outside Brunswick. They told police they suspected him of being a burglar, and that the shooting was in self-defense.

Atlanta cops charged in death of Rayshard Brooks

Police body camera video shows two Atlanta officers having a calm and respectful conversation with Rayshard Brooks for more than 40 minutes after responding to complaints that Brooks had fallen asleep in his car in a Wendy’s drive-thru lane on June 12. When the officers tried to handcuff Brooks, he resisted in a struggle caught on dash camera video. Brooks grabbed a Taser from one of the officers and fired it at Officer Garrett Rolfe as he ran away. Rolfe fired his gun and an autopsy found Brooks was shot twice in the back. The killing sparks new demonstrations against police brutality in Atlanta. Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields resigns less than 24 hours after the shooting. The Fulton County district attorney files charges including felony murder against Rolfe, and charges Brosnan with aggravated assault and violating his oath. Their lawyers have said their actions were justified.

Cold case murder get another day in court

A judge in July overturns the convictions of a man who was found guilty of killing two people in their south Georgia church in 1985, and orders a new trial. Dennis Perry had been in prison for 20 years after the killings of Harold and Thelma Swain, who were killed inside Rising Daughters Baptist Church in Waverly, Georgia. The ruling comes after DNA recovered from the crime scene matched an alternate suspect during reinvestigation of the case.

John Lewis honored

Civil rights icon John Lewis dies in July at age 80. Three former presidents eulogize him at his funeral at Ebenezer Baptist Church, once pastored by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Lewis championed equal rights and voting access during the Civil Rights movement and later in Congress as a longtime U.S. representative. He was known worldwide for leading protesters in the 1965 “Bloody Sunday’' march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, where he was beaten by Alabama state troopers.

Golden Ray’s final chapter

The cargo overturned leaving the Port of Brunswick in September 2019, but the massive effort to remove the wreckage of the car hauler in St. Simons Sound continued throughout 2020. Work slicing off massive chunks to be towed away on barges will continue into 2021.

Peach State expands Medicaid

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp in November unveils a plan to expand Medicaid to the state’s poorest able-bodied adults, on the condition that they work, volunteer, receive job training or attend school.

Surgeries on immigrants questioned

An Associated Press review of medical records and interviews reveals growing allegations that surgeries and other procedures were performed on immigrants being detained in Georgia who never sought them or didn’t fully understand the situation. Lawyers and experts say the women’s lack of consent or knowledge raises serious legal and ethical issues. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Acting Director Tony Pham says he’s committed to the health, welfare and safety of ICE detainees.

About the Authors:

Digital election producer in 2022. He created in 1995 and managed The Local Station's website through 2021.