Baltimore and the end of the end of history

Guest author: Erick Omena de Melo
Oxford Brookes University – Department of Planning. Webpage

The Baltimore riots are the latest of several challenges to the idea of the “end of history”, notably subsumed by the ending of the TV series “The Wire”, which is coincidentally set in the same city. The continuous spreading of discontent may represent an intervallic period, in Badiou’s terms, which may be a sign of the end of “end of history”. This article highlights the fact that the recent Baltimore uprisings have a symbolic importance for such a state of current affairs.


Despite the hostile attitude of the major media outlets, the emergence of the Baltimore uprisings is something to be celebrated. Not just because it is the newest response to an old routine of police violence against black people in the USA, following other cities such as Ferguson and New York. But also because these riots are happening in a city that was one of the first to experiment the alluring but harmful neoliberal way of planning cities, aka urban entrepreneurialism (Harvey, 1989), and to be condemned to its perverse consequences. The promises of better days for deindustrialized cities, represented by flagship projects such as waterfront renovations sold as the only way out, did not turn into reality. Conversely, the market-friendly interventions tended to increase the internal disparities, creating a “tale of two cities”1. This tale was almost perfectly told by the ultra-realistic TV series “The Wire”.

Why almost perfectly? Because although director David Simon managed to masterly expose the hidden injustices reproduced by Baltimore institutions, such as the police department, the municipality, the schools, the port, local media and their respective connections to drug trafficking, its fatalistic ending suggests an everlasting cycle, leaving no room for change and resistance, a fact that was accurately pointed out by philosopher Slavoj Zizek (2012). During the last moments of the series, it becomes clear the not so original line of thought constructed by Simon: although agents can be changed, structure will always remain the same, perpetuating suffering and exclusion. However, “The Wire” has been challenged by the reality it intended to portray and Zizek has been proved right.

On 27th April, some of Baltimore’s most marginalized communities decided they couldn’t bear that cycle anymore and stood against oppression and extermination. In the aftermath of the killing of a 25 year old man in custody, hundreds of people mobbed the streets, beating policemen, smashing police cars and looting local shops. However, this is not news for many cities in the world. In one of the most similar cases, the 2011 London riots, it started off after the murder of a black teenager by a policeman in the north neighbourhood of Tottenham. Likewise, swarms of people fought the police, put fire on properties and looted several shops.

According to Alain Badiou (2012), such explosive “immediate riots”, usually marked by specific discontent with police action, can be the first step for more enduring and consistent mobilization represented by “historical riots”, such as the Arab Spring. The recent dissemination of the latter are the symptoms of a current “rebirth of history”, that is, the reopening of possibilities of real change supposedly closed by Fukuyama’s idea of the “end of history”. The French philosopher argues that we are in an “intervallic period”, i.e., one of those moments in history that combines high degrees of dissatisfaction with a given situation but somehow lacks a positive general idea, which can be presented not solely as negation but as an alternative to the status quo. Therefore, we would be living in an era eager for transformation, though still unable to rebuild the revolutionary ideas that are “dormant” and could bring real change.

It might sound brilliant to portray the reality of Baltimore and elsewhere as a sort of Greek tragedy, accidentally fitting well on the “end of history” framework. But in the beginning of the twenty-first century, pages may be turning and Gods may be dying. This is corroborated by the recent uprisings in England, Spain, Scotland, Greece, the Middle-east, Brazil, Turkey and the USA, indicating that people are not so willing to accept injustice and something important is going on. The Baltimore riots came to remind us of this once more. More than that, by exposing all the harm caused by mandatory urban entrepreneurialism and by showing that a supposedly surrendered and resigned city can get on its feet again and demand changes, Baltimore is saying to the world that the end of the end of history could be even closer.

Badiou, Alain. (2012). The Rebirth of History. Times of riots and uprisings. London: Verso.
Harvey, D. (1989) From managerialism to entrepreneurialism, Geografiska Annaler, B, 71, 1, 3-18.
Žižek, Slavoj. (2012). The Year of Dreaming Dangerously. London: Verso.

1 The social differences between Sandtown-Winchester/Harlem Park areas and other Baltimore neighbourhoods, recently published by the Washington Post, are very illustrative of those divisions.


Bio: Erick Omena de Melo is a PhD candidate in Planning at Oxford Brookes University. His research interests focus on the interface of social movements, urban governance,urban theory and mega events. He has worked at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro as a member of the coordination team of the project “Metropolization and mega-events”, which carried out research about the urban impacts of the Olympics and the World Cup in Brazil with a particular emphasis on the relationship between universities and civil society. Erick has also collaborated with social movements such as the People’s Committee for the World Cup and the Olympics and the Brazilian National Fans Association.


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