Twenty of the most pivotal events that shaped our community this year, in chronological order.

By Ron Cassie, Lauren Cohen, Janelle Erlichman Diamond, Christianna McCausland, Jane Marion, Amy Scattergood, Max Weiss, and Lydia Woolever

We love assembling our Year in Review because it allows us to really reflect on the slippery nature of time. Were cicadas this year? (Nope, that was 2021. This year we had the dreaded lanternfly.) Did that crazy Code Red air quality thing caused by Canadian wildfires happen in 2023? (As a matter of fact, it did!)

Compiling this list also allows us to consider both the wonderful—the Orioles were great! John Waters got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame!—and the woeful. This was the year we lost beloved Orioles Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson (but not before we put him on the “Trailblazers” cover of our January issue alongside other local luminaries like Joyce Scott and Kurt Schmoke). And this was also the year that a mass shooting in Brooklyn killed two people and injured 28 others. (But, on a brighter note, the overall number of homicides were down significantly.)

All in all, assembling this list reminds us that a year, like a life, has a balance—there are highs and lows, triumphs and disappointments, laughter and tears.

Below are the 20 events that stood out the most.

Keith Davis Jr. Released 

After facing four trials on the same murder charge, and five trials overall surrounding the events of the same morning, Keith Davis Jr. was released from prison in January after more than seven years of incarceration. Davis, who never threatened police, was shot multiple times by Baltimore officers, and nearly died during his arrest

Newly elected City State’s Attorney Ivan Bates followed up on a campaign pledge by dismissing the charges against Davis in the controversial, long running prosecution. Then-City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby was held in contempt of court for violating a gag order in the case, and a judge also found a ”presumption of vindictiveness” in Mosby’s prosecution of Davis. She had intended to try Davis a fifth time on the same murder charge if re-elected. 

Inspired by his girlfriend and future wife’s tireless advocacy, Davis’ case became a rallying point for local criminal justice reform activists, eventually receiving national attention, as well amplification from leading Black Lives Matter voice DeRay McKesson. 

Keith's wife, Kelly Davis, and three of their four children outside their former home. —Photography by J.M. Giordano

Wes Moore Sworn In as First Black Governor of Maryland

On January 18, Wes Moore stood in a blue suit before a podium at the State House in Annapolis and was sworn in as not only Maryland’s 63rd governor, but its first elected Black governor, and the nation’s third. Before thousands of attendees (including Oprah herself!), the 44-year-old Democrat and father-of-two took the oath of office using a Bible owned by Frederick Douglass. His running mate, former state delegate Aruna Miller, also became the first immigrant and first Asian American Lieutenant Governor elected in Maryland.

In their first six months, the administration raised the statewide minimum wage, enacted legislation to protect reproductive rights, launched a first-in-the-nation service year program for high school graduates, and revived hopes of the Red Line transportation project in Baltimore. “This journey has never been about making history,” Moore said that winter morning. “It is about marching forward. Today is not an indictment of the past. Today is a celebration of our collective future. Maryland, it’s time. Let’s lead and let’s do it together.”

—Governor Wes Moore via Facebook

BOPA Endures a Controversial Year

It started with a parade—or a lack thereof. The Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts (BOPA)—the city’s arts council, events producer, and film office—drew ire on Jan. 5 when then-CEO Donna Drew Sawyer announced that it was canceling the annual Martin Luther King Jr. parade, which had not been held since 2020 due to COVID-19. Faced with scrutiny, BOPA pointed fingers at the Mayor’s office, the Mayor’s office shifted blame back, and, ultimately, Mayor Brandon Scott publicly threatened to pull funding for BOPA (and not renew its contract, which is up in 2024) if Sawyer wasn’t removed.

She promptly resigned—and the Mayor’s office ended up planning and hosting the parade—but the back-and-forth sparked larger questions about city funds dedicated to BOPA, especially in the wake of continued cancellations of BOPA-led events like Artscape and the Baltimore Book Festival since COVID. 

Then, Artscape was mired in controversy before it even happened (it was planned for September this year) when a move by BOPA to trademark the festival was smacked down by the Baltimore City law department in May. The hits kept coming in August, when Hampdenfest organizers were denied an application to hold their neighborhood event on the same weekend as Artscape due to a lack of city resources—again, causing many to blame BOPA.

Artscape weekend turned out to be a bucket full of disappointment, literally, when heavy rain from Tropical Storm Ophelia caused a portion of the event to be canceled—although visitors were still able to enjoy new indoor exhibitions and a headlining performance by Grammy Award-winner DJ Pee. Wee.  

Despite controvery, the Mayor's office ended up holding the city's annual MLK Day Parade on Jan. 16. —Mayor Brandon Scott via Facebook

Asma Naeem Kicks Off Tenure as BMA Director with The Culture

When Asma Naeem was named the eleventh director of the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) in January, she became the first person of color to assume the position at the city’s revered institution. Naeem, who was previously the BMA’s interim co-director, is known for diversifying collections and advocating to bring underrepresented artists into the conventional museum fold. She did just that by kicking off her tenure as director with the opening of The Culture: Hip Hop and Contemporary Art in the 21st Century, which Naeem co-curated with the museum’s chief education officer Gamynne Guillotte. The groundbreaking exhibit marked the 50th anniversary of the birth of hip-hop, highlighting more than 90 works (everything from painting and sculpture to fashion and audio) that showcased the genre’s influence on contemporary society.

Asma Naeem at the BMA. —Photography by Micah E. Wood

CFG Arena Debuts with The Boss

When Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band sold out their show for the grand opening of Baltimore’s new and improved CFG Bank Arena (which originally opened in 1962 as the Baltimore Civic Center and was most recently Royal Farms Arena) on April 7, no one was surprised. Yes, The Boss was the draw, but everyone also wanted a peek at the 11-month, $250-million renovation that included an overhauled concourse, plus fresh suites, concessions, and seating.

Springsteen—who had the whole arena on their feet from “No Surrender”—played one long set followed by a seven-song encore. In the eight months since, CFG has also brought in acts like SZA, Janet Jackson, Dave Matthews Band, Eagles, Andrea Bocelli, Jonas Brothers, and Mariah Carey. Impressively, it came in at No. 10 on Billboard’s list of highest-grossing venues (with a capacity of 10-15,000) in the world in 2023.  

—Photography by Christopher Myers

Lamar Jackson (Finally) Signs Stalled Ravens Contract

Lamar Jackson is having another MVP-caliber season and, as of this writing, has led the Ravens to a 10-3 record and the top of the AFC North. It’s hard to believe that there was a real chance he wasn’t going to be a Raven this year. Contract talks between the Ravens and their wildly talented (but vexingly injury prone) QB started, then stalled—and stayed stalled. A lot of the consternation was over the absurdly inflated, five-year, $230-million guaranteed contract the Cleveland Browns gave their QB, Deshaun Watson. After all, if Watson was worth that much, surely Jackson was worth more. (Thanks, Cleveland.) At one point, Jackson took to social media to request a trade. Various teams weighed the pros and cons of signing him. There was even a genuine fear the worst case scenario might occur—that Jackson would sit out the entire 2023 season.

Then, on April 27, Ravens GM Eric DeCosta pulled a rabbit out of his hat, agreeing to terms with Jackson on a five-year, $260-million contract. To help out his star QB, DeCosta also acquired a couple of talented wide receivers: high-profile free agent Odell Beckham Jr. and the electrifying Zay Flowers, whom the Ravens drafted with the 22nd pick. Jackson was happy. The Ravens were happy. And most of all, the fans were happy. Crisis averted!

Amidst Controversy, Church Bar Changes HandsThen Closes

When Church Bar opened in Old Goucher in the fall of 2022, it aspired to change the way the hospitality industry treats its staff, particularly queer individuals, which is how many of those on staff identified. Founder Chelsea Gregoire, a former student of theology and established bartender, had a vision: to create a true community gathering space with higher hourly wages, educational enrichment opportunities, and an equitable tip pool system. With diners sitting in church pews and a menu that resembled a bible, the hip bar was many years in the making. But just as Esquire included Church on its 2023 list of best bars in America in June, the establishment was going up in flames. 

Gregoire, named Esquire’s Beverage Director of the Year in 2019, was on their way out, citing mental health struggles. All the while, former employees and vendors alleged that they were frequently paid late and had experienced a stressful work environment, while employees and investors were misled about finances. Gregoire wrote in an email that they were “heartbroken by the experience that some folks have had…at the business under my watch. This was absolutely not the aim, nor in line with the ethos of what I attempted to build.” 

Within a month of Gregoire’s departure, a new ownership group stepped in to start anew, but received backlash from some former staff who were still owed money. Ultimately, Church’s lofty goals were not tenable. On Sept. 3, the new owners, husband-and-wife  Kristin and Devon Potler, announced that Church Bar had closed for good. “We did not know the depths of pain that existed at Church Bar before we took over, and we pray those who are hurting can find healing,” the Potlers wrote. They also sought to “set the record straight,” saying they paid $15,000 in back wages before reopening the bar in June, “and more after.”

Baltimore Experiences Smoky Skies From Canadian Wildfires

A Code Red air quality alert dimmed the skies in June, making the city feel like the apocalypse was imminent. For much of a week, smoke from Canadian wildfires drifted down from Quebec—at one point, as many as 400 fires burned across Canada—to settle over Baltimore and much of Maryland, turning the sun blood-red and the sky the color of blown paper bags, making it impossible to tell what time of day it was without looking at the clock.

Officials warned residents to stay indoors and urged vulnerable folks to wear masks (again) because of the high particulate matter. Weeks before the Fourth of July, the whole city smelled like a bad barbecue. “It’s like walking around casinos back in the day,” Baltimore pulmonologist Dr. Jay Kirkham told The Sun. Fortunately, one of the region’s frequent thunderstorms eventually cleared the air, though the fires in Canada kept burning.

—Courtesy of @isabel_cumming via Twitter

Legalized Cannabis Lights Up Maryland

On July 1, Maryland became the 20th state (plus Washington, D.C.) in the country to legalize adult-use cannabis, meaning anyone over 21 can now legally buy and even grow weedand they have. From July to October of 2023, total combined monthly sales of adult-use and medical marijuana have ranged between $87 and $91 million. While there are still benefits to going the medical route, adult-use sales have been more than double that of the medicinal product. But lest we get carried away, it’s important to point out that it’s still illegal to smoke in many public places, parks for example. Additionally, driving under the influence can end in a DUI, and, as the drug is still illegal at the Federal level, it cannot be taken out of the state.

Maryland Cannabis Administration acting director Will Tilburg. —Photography by Mike Morgan

Brooklyn Mass Shooting Claims Lives of Two, Injures Dozens

It was supposed to be a food and festivity-filled block party celebrating Brooklyn Day. Instead, shots fired near South Baltimore’s Brooklyn Homes after midnight on July 2 left two people, Aaliyah Gonzales and Kylis Fagbemi, dead and 28 injured. It was a grim reminder that despite Baltimore flattening the curve on murders this year, 2023 still saw the largest shooting incident in the city’s history. According to police, at least ten different shooters could have been involved, and as of September 2023, law enforcement had made five arrests in connection with the shooting. In August, the Baltimore Police Department released a 173-page “after-action report,” which faulted police supervisors for taking a “hands-off approach” to intervening in the Brooklyn Day celebration. The report also recommended a series of leadership changes within the Baltimore Police Department.

Government officials gather with Brooklyn residents in the wake of the mass shooting. —Mayor Brandon Scott via Facebook

The Spotted Lanternfly Moves in on Baltimore

We’d heard for a while about their impending arrival, but it wasn’t until this past fall that the spotted lanternfly emerged in full force throughout the Baltimore region. Seemingly out of nowhere, not unlike the 17-year cicadas, those dotted gauze-like wings with a splash of bright-red coloring were awkwardly ambling through the air, becoming an even more worrisome nuisance for residents, businesses, and the environmental community, who scrambled to contain their spread. First arriving in the state by way of Pennsylvania in 2018, the highly invasive, non-native insect has since expanded across 23 counties in Maryland, posing a potential detriment to more than 70 species of trees and grapevineswhich they swarm for sap, sometimes by the thousands. With few known predators, the Department of Agriculture encouraged the public to squish, squash, and kill the bugs. But with estimated millions now living throughout the state, spotted lanternflies seem like a new autumn ritual that’s here to stay.

—Photography by Lydia Woolever

John Waters Gets Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

If they were to make a movie out of it, John Waters definitely wouldn’t direct it. It’s all too heartwarming, too uplifting, too much of a Horatio Alger success story. Indeed, if you had told young John Waters—the self-proclaimed “Pope of Trash,” and a much censored and feared director of hilarious, but intentionally shocking films—that he would one day have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, he would’ve laughed you out of the room. But over the years, Waters’ reputation has softened from scandalous punk to beloved elder statesman (much to his chagrin) and on September 18, the impossible happened—Waters got his star and a corresponding exhibit at the Academy of Motion Pictures. 

“I’m so respectable I could puke!” Waters told The Guardian. But on that day, surrounded by friends, family, fans, and surviving Dreamlanders, he couldn’t help but to be moved. He even brought a picture of his late parents, who supported him (even if they didn’t get him) so they could be part of the ceremony. Still, at 77, the puckish auteur has a lot of mischief and mayhem left in him. “I’m closer to the gutter than ever!” he proclaimed, kneeling at his star.

Waters holds a framed photo of his parents after being presented with his star. —Courtesy of @imagerybyoscar/Hollywood Chamber of Commerce

Brooks Robinson Passes Away 

On September 26, the legendary Brooks Robinson, the man known as “Mr. Oriole,” passed away at 86. The beloved Robinson was appreciated by generations of O’s fans as much for his warmth and humanity as for his heroics on the diamond. In his honor a week later, several hundred Baltimore Orioles and Brooks Robinson fans turned out for the team’s public memorial for the Hall of Famer at Camden Yards—with the ceremony fittingly on the field near third base. Among the Hall of Famers paying homage was Cal Ripken Jr., who grew up idolizing Robinson as a role model. Ripken recalled making his debut start at Memorial Stadium at third base, saying he felt at the time like he was stepping on “sacred ground.” 

—Baltimore Orioles via Facebook

The Archdiocese of Baltimore Files for Bankruptcy

In April, the Maryland Attorney General’s Office revealed the disturbing results of its four-year investigation into history of child sexual abuse within the 200-year-old Archdiocese of Baltimore, the first Catholic diocese in America. Investigators on the case found 156 priests and other church figures accused of the “sexual abuse” and “physical torture” of more than 600 children and young adults throughout the past 80 years. According to the Attorney General’s Office, church officials systematically covered up and enabled the abuse through the end of the 20th century. 

The disclosure jumpstarted long-stalled efforts to reform Maryland’s statute of limitation for sex abuse lawsuits under the Maryland Child Victims Act. The newly passed bill was set to lift the age and time limits for survivors to sue churches, schools, and other institutions. But on Sept. 29, two days before the law was supposed to go into effect, the Archdiocese filed for bankruptcy, a move that attorneys and advocates say was made to limit its liability against potential damages and conserve its assets. The declaration of bankruptcy shifts the legal actions against the archdiocese from the state court system to federal bankruptcy court, where all claims are absorbed into one case as creditors. That means ongoing lawsuits against the diocese will be folded into the bankruptcy courts, considered a less transparent forum.

The Orioles Soar Into the Playoffs

Fan optimism in Baltimore is usually half-hearted, even ironic. “Next year!” we cry at the end of a typical dud of a season, as we drown our sorrows at the bar. But last year we really meant it. With the arrival of stud catcher Adley Rutschman, the Orioles had shown major promise in the second half of the 2022 season. They were clearly on the upswing—and reaching the playoffs seemed like a realistic goal. But no one thought they’d be this good. 

With Rutschman continuing his excellent play and leadership, closer Félix Bautista looking like the second coming of Mariano Rivera, and the emergence of future Rookie of the Year Gunnar Henderson as a true superstar, the Orioles started to win—and they never stopped. They ended the season with a glittering 101-63 record, the second best in all of baseball, and tops in the American League. They also had an enormous amount of fun along the way—implementing the Bird Bath, both on and off the field; wearing goofy matching outfits; and unveiling the most epic walk-on ritual in the MLB (Bautista’s flashing lights and Omar whistle). 

Alas, they ran into a juggernaut—future World Series champions Texas Rangers—in the ALDS and went out with something of a whimper, but it was an incredibly fun season that we wouldn’t trade for the world. And this year, when we say, “Next year!” we really mean it.

—Courtesy of Baltimore Orioles via Facebook

Mr. and Mrs. Smith Come to Baltimore

On October 18, the never-ending saga that is the marriage of Will and Jada Pinkett Smith made a surprising detour in Charm City. Pinkett-Smith, a Baltimore native, was in town to promote her book, Worthy. She stopped by her alma mater, the Baltimore School for the Arts, with her daughter, Willow Smith, in tow. (With apologies to Pinkett-Smith, the students were perhaps a bit more excited to see the 23-year-old “Meet Me At Our Spot” singer than the actress and Emmy-award-winning Red Table Talk host.) Then, that night, attendees at the reading and conversation at the Enoch Pratt Free Library got the biggest surprise of all: an unannounced appearance by Will Smith, and the rest of the family—including Willow’s brother, Jaden, and Smith’s son, Trey, from a previous marriage.

So, is the famously combustible couple together? Are they separated? Exes with benefits? Soulmates without a label? Nobody knows for sure. At the library, according to CBS News, Will Smith called their partnership a “sloppy public experiment in unconditional love.”

—Courtesy of the Enoch Pratt Free Library via Facebook

Linden Heights Blaze Prompts Baltimore Fire Department to Enact New Protocols

When a fire engulfed a set of rowhomes in Northwest Baltimore on October 19, Baltimore City firefighters did what they always do—went into the inferno. Only this time, two did not make it out. The death of Rodney Pitts III was announced by fire officials shortly after the Linden Heights blaze, while Lt. Dillon Rinaldo (posthumously promoted to captain) died later. The tragedy prompted the Baltimore Fire Department to issue a directive in November setting strict regulations for when firefighters can enter a burning building. The new protocols build on those put in place after the death of three other firefighters (and the serious injury of a fourth) when a vacant building collapsed during a blaze in 2022.

—Mayor Brandon Scott via Facebook

Harborplace Renovation Plans Revealed

For years, the same question has crossed many Baltimoreans’ minds when making their way across the Inner Harbor by car, water taxi, or on foot via the waterfront promenade: When are we going to see a revitalized Harborplace? After previous failed overhauls and years in receivership, the wheels finally began to turn this year. Local developer MCB Real Estate finalized its acquisition of the development in June, and used feedback from its community engagement sessions throughout the year to dream up preliminary plans that were released to the public on Oct. 30.

With input from a handful of local design firms, the plans call for the demolition of the twin pavilions to make way for three new commercial and retail buildings, a 900-unit residential tower, nearly five acres of waterfront park and public gathering space, and a brand new 2,000-seat amphitheater. With permitting and zoning on the horizon, we’re likely years away from seeing any of this surface, but developers have vowed to activate the pavilions with temporary tenants (they currently house businesses like Crust by Mack and Matriarch Coffee) while they await demolition. 

—Our Harborplace via Facebook

Former City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby Found Guilty of Perjury

In November, the first of two federal cases against former City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby concluded with convictions on two counts of perjury. In January 2022, the Department of Justice indicted Baltimore’s top prosecutor, accusing her of lying about experiencing COVID-19 financial hardship to take $90,000 from her city retirement savings account under a provision of the federal CARES Act. She had received her full salary of $247,955 in 2020, when she used the withdrawals to buy two Florida homes worth roughly $1 million. Mosby, who lost her bid for a third term a year earlier, faces a maximum sentence of five years in federal prison for each of the two counts of perjury. However, anything approaching a maximum sentence is far from likely.

In the second case, DOJ prosecutors allege Mosby misled mortgage lenders by failing to disclose a $45,000 IRS tax lien on her mortgage applications. They also allege that she claimed one of the properties, an eight-bedroom house near Disney World, was a second home—when she had already hired a property management company to handle its rental use. 

—Photography by Meredith Herzing

Baltimore City’s Homicide Rate Sees Significant Decrease

For the first time since 2018, Baltimore’s homicide rate is on track to remain below 300. As of this writing, the Baltimore Police Department reports 263 murders in 2023, which is certainly nothing to be proud of. But the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement (MONSE) estimates that both homicides and nonfatal shootings have decreased significantly, more than a combined 25 percent, in the last year. Some attribute the dip to MONSE’s Group Violence Reduction Strategy, while others point to crackdowns by new City State’s Attorney Ivan Bates, as well as initiatives by community organizations like Safe Streets and Baltimore Peace Movement. With a continued focus on violence-prevention work, here’s hoping these metrics continue tracking in the right direction in 2024.

A massive peace flag waves over the Baltimore Peace Movement weekend event on Edmonson Avenue. —Photography by J.M. Giordano

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