1. The Gun Trace Task Force: What many Baltimoreans have been talking about and telling reporters like me for a while turns out to be totally true: Cops are straight up robbing people, stealing drugs, planting drugs, and being truly, absolutely terrible. It all came crashing down and became public in March when seven officers were federally indicted for racketeering. The charges kept piling on, more members were indicted, and it fanned out to Philly, where a former Baltimore cop was selling stolen drugs, and to the murder of Det. Sean Suiter, who was set to testify against some members of the task force. The biggest Baltimore police scandal of all time?
2. Homicides: Currently, Baltimore is at 338 homicides and quickly approaching 2015’s 344 homicide total. The short-term solutions to the homicide rate are terrible and mean bringing back the policies that got us here in the first place. Mayor Catherine Pugh is on the right track with talk of rec centers, but she keeps falling short of the kind of dynamic, inventive leadership that results in legit change. There are community-oriented fixes—namely Safe Streets and Baltimore Ceasefire. Finding solutions to violent crime won’t be easy, but funding and recognizing programs that work is a start.
3. Baltimore Ceasefire: Community mediator Erricka Bridgeford along with others including veteran rapper Ogun constructed a decentralized, grassroots effort that demanded “nobody kill anybody for 72 hours.” They promoted it like a club night or rap show with fliers, and they pounded the pavement with Bridgeford and others’ outreach, talking to everybody from Mount Washington residents to shooters and gang members. The ceasefire offered some hope, and they’re going to do it again with a third one in February. And Bridgeford provided insight that addressed gun violence, but also didn’t ignore the systemic reasons for the city’s problems. Thankfully, as a result, she left respectability politics behind and brought the whole city together.
4. Det. Sean Suiter’s Death: On Nov. 15, Baltimore Police Department Detective Sean Suiter was shot in the head in the Harlem Park neighborhood. He died the next day. We’d later learn, either via much-delayed drips of info from the police or through dogged reporting, that Suiter was set to testify against other police officers and that he was driven to Shock Trauma in a police car, which crashed on the way there. There was a suspect (a black man in black coat), but no real description ever popped up and a $215,000 award for information remains unclaimed. Rumors abound, the Harlem Park neighborhood put on lockdown for days, and a general veil of secrecy around Suiter’s death made this a messy story and possibly one too big for Davis and his PR-obsessed police department to keep quiet. Prediction: Davis will be fired soon and how he handled this will be a factor, no doubt.
5. Confederate Monuments Coming Down: In what is clearly the most decisive and admirable decision by Mayor Catherine Pugh, the city’s Confederate monuments were swiftly taken down just a few days after the white supremacist terrorist attack in Charlottesville and sent to a yard on Route 40. It placed Baltimore on the vanguard of what to do with these racist monuments, and it seemed as though for a rare moment this year, Baltimore let out a sigh of relief as these hateful statues got taken away.
6. The LINK: In June, LINK, a new bus system—enacted by Governor Larry Hogan and essentially a whole bunch of technocrats who never ride the bus—was forced upon the city under the always-troubling claim of efficiency, which mostly meant removing some routes and reducing others, inconveniencing daily commuters. Not to mention confusion for the drivers who didn’t entirely know the routes, and the shift to color coding even on routes that remained exactly the same. It is months later and like many things here, the city’s resigned to accepting it. Public transportation is one of the keys to a successful and thriving city and pubic transportation here still sucks.
7. Tent City: In August, red tents appeared in front City Hall as part of a complex endeavor organized by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Baltimore Bloc, and others to call attention to people experiencing homelessness and to demand a Racial Equity Benefits Agreement. What made this occupation different was how it was organized: Decisions were made by the people experiencing homelessness. A true inspiration. Ten days in, Mayor Pugh offered key organizers access to shelter at Pinderhughes Elementary, and most took it. It was the first step toward the loftier goals of the action dissolving, but it provided a model for action outside of marching in the streets, and it got the Mayor’s attention.
8. Safe Arts Space Task Force: Following the tragic fire at a DIY space in Oakland last December, Baltimore’s Bell Foundry was condemned and its artist-tenants evicted. What followed was a surreal task force set up to help find housing and present recommendations to the mayor and an order to not raid more spaces. By all artists’ accounts, the task force was clueless, the recommendations long-delayed, and what was finally released unsatisfactory and almost entirely dependent on aboveground venue-building and creating more arts districts. A year later, the resilient-as-hell tenants have kept moving along and The Baltimore Rock Opera Society, which was allowed to return to its headquarters at the Bell following eviction, are still fundraising for their own permanent venue and workshop. The task force’s full recommendations finally dropped and they have little to do with DIY space safety.
9. City Council vs. Pugh: More than half of our City Council are new to the job and they’ve brought with them some sincerity and swagger, and have seemingly found an ally and mentor in Councilman Brandon Scott and perhaps an enemy or at least a foil in Mayor Pugh. The $15 minimum wage was passed by council, but then the mayor—who previously supported it—said “nah” and the council couldn’t override the veto. That said, the council was able to essentially gut the new (and deeply troubling and regressive) mandatory-minimum gun law, so that’s a bit of a win. Perception isn’t everything and so this new blood hasn’t quite lived up to the hype, but knowing there are passionate progressives pushing the mayor a little bit on nearly everything? Well, I’ll take it.
10. Ric Royer Out At Le Mondo: This past spring, the internet and the arts scene were brewing with rumors surrounding the abusive behavior of performer and director Ric Royer, then executive director at Le Mondo, a massive, multi-million dollar arts development. Behind the scenes, Le Mondo’s directors and board wrestled with what to do, and many say, dragged their feet. Initially, Royer was removed from the Le Mondo board and his executive director role, but kept a position on the development side through Le Mondo’s real estate affiliate company, Howard Street Incubator, LLC. By then, a very public reckoning with abusers in the entertainment industry was rolling out, and soon Royer was booted altogether. It was an open secret aired out finally, and it will have long term effects on the arts scene—especially Le Mondo, which by many accounts massively mishandled it.