It will be a long time before America witnesses another history-making month quite like the one that just ended.
June 2015 will be remembered for a controversy over racial identity, an historic prison break, and a mass murder inside a South Carolina church that shocked the nation and inflicted collateral damage on one of the South’s most recognizable symbols.
Still, a pair of rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court impacted millions of Americans immediately and will affect countless more for generations to come.
On June 25, the high court upheld a key provision of the Affordable Care Act. The 6-3 ruling means that President Obama’s signature domestic law – aka “Obamacare” – will likely stand with Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid as pillars of the social contract between the federal government and its citizens.
The next day, June 26, the Supreme Court declared that same-sex marriages are constitutional. The vote was 5-4. The ruling strikes down laws in 13 states that restrict same-sex marriages, making it, arguably, the most important victory in the history of the gay rights movement.
The month did not begin so auspiciously. On June 5, in McKinney, Texas, about 30 miles north of Dallas, police were called when residents complained about a group of young people, mostly African Americans, attending a party at a community pool. Some of the teens said that problems began after a white woman allegedly hurled racial slurs at them.
The situation deteriorated when a white police officer, Cpl. David Eric Casebolt, brandished his gun at a group of black teens and then manhandled a black teenage girl to the ground before arresting her.
Cell phone videos of the take-down went viral. On June 9, McKinney Chief Greg Conley, telling reporters that Casebolt was “out of control,” announced that the 41-year-old officer had resigned from the force.
By then, two convicted murderers had been on the run for three days after breaking out of a maximum security prison in upstate New York.
David Sweat, 35, and Richard Matt, 49, were the first prisons to escape the Clinton Correctional Facility – the largest prison in New York – since the prison’s inception in 1865. Sweat was serving a sentence of life without parole for killing a sheriff’s deputy. Matt was serving 25 years to life for killing and dismembering his former boss.
Matt and Sweat used hacksaw blades to saw through a steel cell wall and several steel steam pipes, bashed a hole through a 2-foot-thick brick wall, and squirmed through pipes to escape on June 6.
While more than 1,000 law enforcement officers hunted the pair, an unusual racial issue took center stage on June 12, just three days after Casebolt’s resignation.
That day, Rachel Dolezal (pronounced doe-lah-ZALL), who is white, became the No. 1 trending topic on Twitter after it was revealed that she has been posing as black for years. Dolezal was so convincing that she was serving as the head of the Spokane, WA, chapter of the NAACP.
She resigned amid the controversy, but not before igniting a nation-wide debate over whether pretending to be black is morally wrong, and individual right, or a tempest in a teapot. When asked on NBC Today if she is African America, Dolezal responded, “I identify as black.”
The country lost interest in Dolezal on June 17, the day a young white man walked into the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. and shot nine people to death during a Bible study meeting. The victims – six women and three men – ranged in age from 26 to 87. One of them, Rev. Clementa Pinkney, the church’s pastor and a member of the South Carolina state senate, was eulogized by Mr. Obama on June 26, hours after the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decision was announced.
The victims of the Emanuel AME Church shooting.
According to a woman who survived the carnage, the man walked in off the street and sat in on the Bible meeting for an hour before rising to open fire. The day after the mass killing, Dylann Storm Root, 21, was arrested in North Carolina. He was charged with nine counts of homicide.
The South Carolina state and U.S. flags were lowered to half-staff in the capitol, but because of a state law, the Confederate flag continued to fly high outside the Statehouse in Charleston.
In the days that followed, photos surfaced of Roof burning an American flag and stepping on another, while waving and posing with Confederate banners.
Root’s apparent devotion to the Confederate flag and the sight of it flying high in front of a state building set off an emotional debate across the country. Defenders of the flag consider it a symbol of Southern pride and heritage. Others feel it represents the legacy of slavery and bigotry.
Before the end of June, Walmart, Amazon, eBay and Sears all announced bans on the sale of Confederate flag merchandise. Sales of such merchandise skyrocketed.
Back in South Carolina, the divisive flag was taken down over Fort Sumter, where Southerners fired the first shots of the Civil War. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley called for the removal of the flag from state capitol grounds, but as the month ended, legislators there had not changed the law allowing it to stay aloft.
On June 26, prison escapee Matt was shot and killed by a law enforcement officer. Two days later, not far from the Canadian border, Sweat was shot by a state trooper and hospitalized, bringing an end to the manhunt that had lasted more than three weeks.
Appropriately, the last day of the month ended on an historic note. On June 30, Misty Copeland was named the first African-American female principal ballerina with the American Ballet Theatre. The dance company is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year.