An Interview with the Punk Whose Bullet Belt Got Him Arrested by the Police
Kevin Young was riding a Boston bus when he created a "real panic" with his spikes and studs.
Things have been tense in Boston lately. Back in June, the subject of a “terror investigation” was shot and killed by police after he was said to have waved a knife at officers who confronted him. A couple weeks later, another man, with another knife, was also shot and killed by police. And earlier this month, the son of a Boston Police captain was arrested after his father tipped off the FBI that he’d been threatening to join ISIS. All of which, of course, comes in the continued psychological aftermath of the Tsarnaev trial, in which the Boston Marathon bomber was sentenced to death, and the larger national conversation about the horrific shootings in South Carolina. So, perhaps, you might possibly forgive riders on the city’s buses for being a little on edge, like they were last weekend, when a man wearing what appeared to be an arsenal of ammunition walked onto the bus. On the other hand, you might call them a pack of simpering, terror-addled babies who called the police over a guy in a punk rock costume.
That’s what happened to Kevin Young, a 26 year old resident of nearby Watertown on Friday, July 10 when he was trying to take the bus from Harvard Square to Allston—a bus route, as anyone who’s taken it before can tell you, that regularly ferries its fair share of punks, metalheads, and assorted members of the general Boston hipster diaspora.
Around 4:20 (nice) on Friday, according to the police report, officers responded to a call for a “person with a gun” at the intersection of Cambridge and Harvard Streets.
The bus driver, the report goes on, had “pulled the bus over and stopped due to the suspect [Young] who was inside of the bus walking towards the front of the bus wearing a gun tactical belt on his waist with what appeared to be military grade ammunition rounds wrapped around his waist area and ankles.” The driver informed officers that he had “caused a panic” in the bus, and immediately called 911.
Young, having sensed something was amiss, got off the bus stop, like so many punks before him have at this particular location just outside the rock club O’Briens and Stingray Tattoo, at which point a search for the potential shooter ensued.
Witnesses informed police that in addition to the ammunition, the suspect “was wearing all black clothing, black boots, black spiked fighter gloves, and black spiked bracelets,” which sounds like a shitty Rancid cover.
Once apprehended, although the police admittedly determined that the bullets were, in fact, replicas, and not dangerous, they arrested him anyway. The charges included “unlawful possession of ammunition,” “carrying a dangerous weapon unlawfully (spiked/studded gloves and arm bands),” and, for good measure, “disorderly conduct.”
At arraignment, Jake Wark, the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office spokesmen told me “prosecutors moved to dismiss the charges primarily on the grounds that the ammunition could not be fired and wasn’t intended to be fired.”
Under Ch. 140, Sect. 121, of the Massachusetts General Laws, he clarified, “a person may be prosecuted for possessing ‘cartridges or cartridge cases… designed for use in any firearm, rifle, or shotgun,’ but we determined that our resources were best directed elsewhere.”
I tracked down Young, who was in the midst of completing 20 hours of community service that he agreed to on the conditions of the charges being dropped, to ask him what happened. Young, an engineer who works in computer networks, is a Boston native, who runs the punk record label Serfs Up, and plays in a couple of bands, including the act Hexxus. The label is getting set to release a compilation cassette of punk acts from around the world to benefit the Baltimore Uprising.
Noisey: Can you explain what actually happened when you got arrested?
Kevin Young: I was heading to a friend’s house, on the bus in Harvard Square. The bus driver came back and informed me she would not be letting me ride the bus “dressed like that” in her own words. I explained that I’d been riding the bus for years with a bullet belt. I said they were fake and there’s never been a problem before. But rather than fighting her, I decided to get off the bus. I did an internship at the MBTA, and my next door neighbor growing up drove a bus, so I didn’t want to cause these people any grief, they're just driving a bus.
What happened next?
Then, after I got off the bus, I waited for the next one. I got on, and was sitting in the back of the bus minding my own business when the bus crosses Brighton Ave. into lower Allston, and pulls over at the stop by Pizzeria Regina. At that point I was already kind of pissed off that I’d been kicked off one bus. I was like, I don’t know what’s going on, I’m just going to call an Uber. I got off, and while I was waiting, a police officer jumps out of a car and tells me not to move. I explained to them I know why you're here, the bullets are fake, I’m not a threat to anybody. At that point, between 12 to 15 other officers showed up. They had me remove my belt, my bootstraps—the little studded straps on my boots that sometimes hold dummy bullets. They had me remove my gloves and a necklace, basically every accessory I had on my body they made me remove.
They saw that all the primers were struck, they saw that it was completely dummy. At that point, I was standing there with my belt undone my pants falling down, and I kept being like, “Hey can we get this over with? It’s humiliating.” They said, “You scared a lot of people on the bus, we got tons of calls that there was a man with a gun.” I was like, “I don't have a gun, I’m not a threat.” One of the officers didn’t take a liking to me and ordered my arrest.
Did they fuck with you or anything?
The arrest process was pretty smooth. I wasn’t mistreated at all. They were generally pretty courteous. After I was bailed out by a friend I learned they had initially charged me with something like six felonies, or at least were going to while I was in holding. I got a lawyer, appeared in court, and the lawyer spoke with the DA and judge and explained who I was, that I’m not a criminal, I don’t go out of my way to cause panic anywhere, I’m just a kid, well not a kid, I’m 26, just a guy who likes to dress differently. I wasn’t trying to cause a problem. This wasn’t some adolescent cry for attention, it’s just how I dress every day. At that point they decided to drop the charges and said I would have to complete 20 hours of community service. I was really lucky for that one. I was facing serious charges, some of which carried minimum sentences, and that was really, really scary. It was also really strange to watch the media in Boston try to portray me as some sort of attention-seeking type.
What were the charges?
I was facing several charges of unlawful possession of ammunition. Some of them carry a minimum sentence of one year. At a certain point, those were dropped to lesser versions of the same charge. I was also charged with unlawful possession of a dangerous weapon, for having what the police called “spiked fighting gloves.” They’re really just fetish wear I made, you can buy similar gloves at Hubba Hubba in Cambridge. You've seen punks with studs before? They’re just rounded cones. They're the same type of thing you see on women’s handbags and you don’t see women being charged with carrying a dangerous weapon. The same type of studs Judas Priest made popular a million years ago.
What did you have to do for community service?
They told me I could volunteer at any non-profit I wanted, so I chose the Cambridge Needle Exchange, because my family and I have dealt with various types of addiction. Growing up in Boston in the 2000s, there a lot of people affected by opiate addiction. Thus far it’s been extremely rewarding. The work those people do there directly affects people and makes people lives little bit better.
Do you think it had anything to do with people being sort of panicked in Boston lately about potential threats?
I’m really not sure. I guess from my own perspective bullet belts and that type of fashion are so culturally ingrained that I would never believe there are people who've never seen a picture of a punk or a famous metal musician from last 30 years. I don’t know what type of person would call the police on a person wearing a bullet belt that’s just minding their own business. I do believe we live in culture of fear, and there’s a gross amount of disinformation out there, and people feel isolated and afraid of the world. I don’t know how that translates into calling the police on someone minding their own business.
You still had to pay for a lawyer I presume?
Yes, I owe people who let me borrow money for my legal fees money back. It was actually a really quick process. I was arrested in the afternoon on Friday, released on my own recognizance that day. I showed up at court at 8:30 in the morning, Monday.
The media was all over the story. What was that like?
The commenters on the news postings were actually very supportive, even people I would never imagine to be supportive, they were very much of the opinion that I’d done nothing wrong. Although I didn't like my name and face being all over the media.
Do you feel embarrassed, like you were being ridiculed?
Not necessarily. I generally didn’t like that my name and face were out there, not that I had no business being in the news, but the idea of being Bullet Belt Guy sucks. But I was surprised to see general members of the public, when these news stations would post the story, you could see if they have a slant to sensationalism. On Fox 25’s Facebook page, the headline was “These charges were dropped, do you think they should have been?” The top comment was “he shouldn’t have been arrested,” and it had 500 likes. I wouldn't have imagined viewership of Fox to be that way.
So tell me about the benefit for the Baltimore Uprising, where does that come into play here?
As I was getting out of court, I was really relieved. With my label, rather than being a record label for profit, we try to make stuff that helps people or just gives somebody’s art away to someone. If someone doesn't have the three dollars for a cassette, I’ll just give it to them. So I was sitting in court, thinking, I’m really lucky—I’m white, college educated, an engineer, and I was able to get a lawyer. I was lucky. I could only think what if I was black or had a previous arrest charge or something, I would’ve been treated extremely differently by the legal system. To me, it was much more important for the Baltimore Uprising compilation to come out, because there are a lot of people that are nameless and faceless sitting in detention cells facing trumped up charges for doing something for social change. I was just sitting on the bus. I felt a little bit guilty about all the attention. A lot of people deserve that attention.
What’s the compilation like?
We’re starting with run of 250 cassettes. There 28 bands from around the world, every inhabited continent in the world, 13 to 14 countries. A couple bands gave us brand new tracks. We’re selling the compilation for $5. That will be out in the next two weeks. All of the proceeds, every cent is going to Baltimore United for Change. We have some huge bands, Kromosom from Australia, Oi Polloi from Scotland, Skitsystem from Sweden, and a number of tiny bands, this band from Mexico called Wasones. We’re trying to get an accurate portrayal of different bits of punk from around the world.
Did you come out of this with a sort of “fuck the police” attitude?
My personal feelings about the police are that most of the officers that responded were not there with a chip on their shoulder. If anything, I can imagine, simply because of the public attention it caused, that the state felt obligated to try to make some sort of example of me. But I don’t think this was some sort of contrived effort to screw me over, I think it was mostly just a bizarre set of circumstances.
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