If it seems as though this has been a year of contradictions, it’s true. Every year is that way, of course – at least to some extent – combining elements of good and bad, beauty and ugliness, ineffable joy and unbearable sorrow. We are, all of us, both saints and sinners, always. Even still, this year stands out as one of the most inspiring and disturbing in recent memory.
Locally, the year was all about Buffalo’s seemingly unstoppable resurgence. Canalside added a bike ferry. A park on the Outer Harbor is in the offing. The University at Buffalo’s new medical school is rising on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, which is itself expanding. The new John R. Oishei Children’s Hospital is under construction, soon to replace the aging Women & Children’s Hospital on Bryant Street.
Most spectacularly, the giant SolarCity project at RiverBend is arising. When completed, it will be the largest solar panel manufacturing plant in the Western Hemisphere, producing spinoff industries and putting Buffalo at the center of an important and developing new economy: clean power.
Terrorism and politics
But Buffalo’s hopeful prospects contrast sharply with the savage violence seen around the country and around the world. ISIS, the rabid group of Islamist terrorists, commits atrocities in the land it has stolen from Iraq and Syria, sends its bloody missionaries to places like Paris, and inspires others to murder innocent people. In San Bernardino, two corrupted killers – married to each other and with a baby at home – opened fire at a holiday party. As a mourner of the bloodshed in Paris wondered, “In the name of what?”
The San Bernardino attack not only shook the country, it corrupted our politics. Developer and former reality TV host Donald Trump exploited Americans’ fears for all they were worth, calling for a preposterous ban on allowing any Muslims into the country. Equally preposterously, he has said the policy of a Trump administration would be to deport all illegal aliens. Imagine the police state that would produce, featuring all the mistakes and tragedies for which ham-fisted, ill-considered government policies are justifiably famous.
Eruptions of violence
Gun violence erupted in other ways across the country, too. At a community college in Oregon, a gunman murdered nine people before taking his own life. In Charleston, S.C., a white gunman massacred nine African-Americans inside the church where they had welcomed him.
The nation reached a grim threshold this year, averaging about one mass shooting per day. And for the first time in 60 years, firearms and cars are killing Americans in equal numbers. That’s because cars and highways have become significantly safer. Guns have not. The reason is that an ill-considered 20-year-old law made research into gun safety financially perilous for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Former Rep. Jay Dickey, R-Ark., now regrets that law and has called for Congress to repeal it.
Any other epidemic would be met with overwhelming response – look how we shut down Ebola when it posed a threat of spreading in this country – yet when it comes to the tragedy of gun violence, we have thrown up our hands in surrender. It’s a tragically un-American response.
Americans did show their mettle when it came to the Ebola crisis, though. Starting last year and continuing into early 2015, there was no shortage of American heroes – because that’s what they are – willing to risk their own well-being to stem Africa’s worst-ever outbreak of a fearfully contagious and deadly disease. It was the kind of behavior that can’t help but make Americans proud.
Americans continue to be freed from prisons where they had been serving time after wrongful convictions. The Innocence Project, based in New York City, freed four innocent people this year.
And still, New York State – one of the nation’s leading perpetrators of wrongful conviction – hasn’t had the decency to respond. The policies that have sent innocent people to prison for decades remain in place. Just this summer, New York City agreed to pay $6.25 million to a man wrongfully convicted of murder. Jonathan Fleming spent 24 years in prison before being exonerated last year.
Happy to have known them
Every year has its problems, of course, and it is a mistake to allow the bad to overwhelm the good. We can be sad at losing so many accomplished people this year, or happy to have had the pleasure of having lived in the times of individuals such as actor Leonard Nimoy, blues guitarist B.B. King, former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, baseball slugger Ernie Banks and journalist Bob Simon. There were scores of others, of course, including here in Western New York, singer Lance Diamond, Bishop Bernard J. McLaughlin and Cory Wells, founder of Three Dog Night.
We leave 2015 today knowing that some severe challenges await, and that others have yet to identify themselves. Here’s hoping we are able to get a grip on most of them and to continue to savor the joys that will, always and inevitably, come our way. Or, to put it another way:
“It ain’t over till it’s over.” – Yogi Berra, 1925-2015