This week, we’re looking back on a strange year of fast and furious — and often conflicting — information. While we spent long days at home, often missing friends, family and our favorite activities, we followed three stories that defined 2020.
A global pandemic upended daily life for billions. For the first two-and-a-half months of the year, events seemed to unfold outside our corner of the world. Then, suddenly, in mid-March, life was changed drastically, even in West Volusia.
Businesses were shuttered, residents were told to shelter in place, and the ties that hold us together as a community were tested. We learned how to really wash our hands, and began doing so frequently and furiously.
But change creates innovation. In short order, out-of-work bartenders were washing cars to raise money, West Volusia restaurateurs poured money and food into vulnerable populations, and cities instituted measures to support their citizens, like establishing curbside pickup locations outside restaurants.
Birthdays and other occasions became drive-by affairs. We were still there for each other even if we couldn’t hug or shake hands.
At first, we were hopeful the situation would be resolved, perhaps “by summer” or even as early as by the beginning of May.
But as time stretched on, it became obvious that the novel coronavirus would stay too long, like a family who prolong their visit during the holidays. Tensions grew, as we were simultaneously forced together and forced apart by the threat of coronavirus.
The unemployment rate in Volusia County peaked in April at 14.6 percent, and the Florida website for unemployment benefits wasn’t working. Nationally and locally, residents were online and hungry for news.
A block party in the Spring Hill neighborhood of southwest DeLand that ended in chaos exploded into a national news story, when, in response to a Beacon article, the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office released a video more than 12 minutes long that featured Air One helicopter footage of crowds of people. The Sheriff’s Office posted on social media the perspective of deputies who responded to the party, via the officers’ body-camera footage.
The images of thousands of people gathered for an outdoor party astounded residents in different parts of the country where lockdowns were more strenuous.
But soon, the conversation changed from the size of the crowd to the apparent racial tension between officers and members of the predominantly black neighborhood.
Attendees at the block party believed the law-enforcement response during the night was racially motivated, including the arrest of seven people. The Volusia County Sheriff’s Office strenuously objected to that view.
Only a week later, race relations were thrust into the forefront of national consciousness, when George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis after an officer rested a knee on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, suffocating Floyd.
There were protests worldwide and in West Volusia cities.
Juneteenth, a celebration of the end of slavery in the United States, again brought people together — albeit masked and socially distanced.
In September, 28-year-old Joseph Griffin, a former staff sergeant in the U.S. Army and currently a nurse manager at a hospital ICU, was stopped in Deltona and held handcuffed on the side of a busy road. Officers said Griffin — who was out for a run — fit the description of a man accused of stealing a leaf blower.
Not long afterward, another man was arrested in the theft.
After The Beacon published an article about Griffin’s experience, he was invited by Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood to speak at a series of implicit-bias-training workshops for Sheriff’s Office staff, which he did in October.
And, of course, there was an election.
Reflecting a national diversity of passionate opinions, residents stood on the busy corner of New York Avenue and Woodland Boulevard in Downtown DeLand, holding signs to advertise their beliefs.
Volusia County swung for incumbent President Donald Trump, but former Vice President Joe Biden would ultimately win the presidency. Locally, voters made a host of consequential local decisions.
In an upset, DeLeon Springs farmer Jeff Brower defeated County Council veteran Deb Denys. Brower’s election reflected a trend that had played out in city meetings throughout the year, as residents came out in large numbers to protest development in Orange City, DeLand and Deltona — efforts that nearly universally failed to stop those developments.
In an interview after his surprise win, Brower called his election an “anti-development mandate.” What he’ll do with that mandate will likely be one of 2021’s top stories.
Without regard to political party — including those registered with no party affiliation — Volusia County voters were clear on two ballot questions: The conservation programs Volusia Forever and ECHO were given the green light to continue to collect tax dollars for 20 more years.