Think back to the big stories of the year. What jumps to mind? The elections? The Nice terror attack? Brexit? There was so much news in 2016 that a lot of other big stories slipped under the radar. With the help of our editors and the experts at Media Matters for America and the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, we put together this list of major stories you probably missed this year.
Myanmar – where a peace icon is silent in the face of a mass killing
The Rohingyas are a persecuted, stateless people who, rights group say, are being systematically eliminated in a full-on offensive by the Myanmar military. The allegations are horrifying: Troops who set entire villages on fire, used helicopter gunships to rain down bullets and raped women and children on a mass scale. The Buddhist-majority Myanmar denies its ethnic cleansing, even as its state-run media calls the Rohingyas, who are Muslims, “detestable human fleas” who have “to be removed.” All of this is happening under Aung San Suu Kyi’s watch. Suu Kyi is the Nobel Peace Prize winner who spent her life fighting for an end to military rule in Myanmar. Now, she’s the nation’s defacto head but, like the military leaders before her, she has remained conspicuously silent on the atrocities.
Bosnia – where a ‘butcher’ is found guilty of genocide
During the Bosnian War, the town of Srebrenica was supposed to be a UN safe area within territory held by ethnic Serbs. But troops, under the command of Radovan Karadzic, betrayed that promise, took the town and massacred more than 7,000 — dumping their bodies in mass graves to cover the evidence. For his role in the genocide, Karadzic was nicknamed the Butcher of Bosnia. And in March, he met his fate: 40 years in prison. The verdict “exposes him for what he really was: the architect of destruction and murder on a massive scale,” said the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Karadzic is the highest ranking official accused in the war, and this final chapter offered a bit of closure for those who survived its horrors.
Private prisons – which are now on the outs
The Justice Department’s decision in August to stop using private prisons was a monumental victory for prisoners’ rights activists, but barely made a blip in national media due to a more sensational story: Ryan Lochte’s tall tale about a robbery during the Rio Games. The Justice Department said private prisons don’t provide better resources, don’t save on costs or have better safety and security. The announcement only impacts the 195,000 inmates in federal prisons, a small portion of America’s 2.2 million incarcerated adult prisoners. There’s also no impact on private immigration detention facilities, since those fall under the Department of Homeland Security. Still, advocates for prison reform believe this could be the beginning of the end for private prisons.
Police shootings of Hispanics – which went under-reported
So far this year, 155 Hispanics have been killed in police shootings, according to a Washington Post database. But while news outlets widely reported on the police shooting deaths of African Americans, these deaths haven’t gotten much attention. The reasons are complicated and disturbing. For one, standards are different across the nation’s law enforcement agencies. Government and police organizations also classify race differently. Some don’t track race at all. Others often lump Hispanics into the “white” category. “The data about Latinos involved in the criminal justice system, either as defendants or victims of crime, is distressingly absent,” says Franklin Cruz, of the Justice Management Institute, a policy think tank based near Washington, D.C. “We literally do not know how many Latinos are stopped, how many suffer from police brutality, or how many are killed.”
Climate change – which now has made refugees out of Americans
2016 was the year when — for the first time — climate change forced Americans to move elsewhere. It’s first “climate refugees”? Residents of the tiny Louisiana island of Isle de Jean Charles, which has lost 98% of its land since 1955. As CNN’s John Sutter reported last April, the marsh of Louisiana’s fragile coast is disappearing at a mind-blowing rate: a football field of land, on average, falls into the Gulf of Mexico per hour. Yes that’s right, a football field every hour. The Mississippi River has been strangled with so many dams and levees that it doesn’t deliver the soil that’s needed to rebuild the island’s marshes. Oil and gas canals and pipelines, meanwhile, have carved up what’s left of the marsh, making it more vulnerable to collapse. Global warming delivers the knockout punch, because as the marsh crumbles, the seas rise from melting ice sheets.
Colorado – where legalizing weed didn’t end the world
When Colorado first talked about legalizing weed, opponents painted a gloom-and-doom picture: it would boost juvenile use, marijuana arrests and highway deaths. Well, recreational marijuana has been legal for adults over 21 in the state for three years and the world hasn’t ended yet. Although opponents feared under-age use would skyrocket, stats show teen marijuana use remaining statistically unchanged since legalization. Overall, marijuana arrests have decreased 46% from 2012-2014. Traffic fatalities remained statistically consistent — dipping 1%. “We haven’t seen any significant public health or public safety dangers that have caused us great alarm,” said Andrew Freedman, Colorado’s director of marijuana coordination.
College football – where the longest winning streak was snapped
It was possibly the most heartbreaking sports contest of the year — certainly if you played football for the University of Mount Union, in Alliance, Ohio. After winning 112 games in a row, the John Carroll University Blue Streaks defeated the Mount Union Purple Raiders by 3 points in November, ending the longest string of victories in college football history. The Division III team’s streak had lasted since 2005.