May 11 2015 06:36 PM

Baltimore kid goes to jail as an example to would-be rioters

Aaryn Belfer

Allen Bullock had been sleeping in jail for more than a week, and not too many people seemed appropriately pissed off about it. In fact, most people I talk to about him just stand silently, blinking, blinking.  

Bullock is out of custody now. For those who care—and everyone should—he is an 18-year-old kid with no prior criminal record who had been held on $500,000 bail, and faces a possible life in prison because he "attacked a Baltimore police car with an orange traffic cone." At least, that's how The New Republic phrased it. Bullock committed his apparently incarceration-worthy crime in response to the lynching of Freddie Gray, the young black man who made eye contact with a police officer one day and got his neck snapped as a result. 

Severing a spinal cord during an (in this case unwarranted) arrest is an attack. Shattering windows on a police car is therapy.

(Oh, and hold off hitting send after you pound out an email decrying my use of the term "lynching." I'm aware that it's incendiary and offends white sensibilities. But it's time for a Come To Jesus talk about the realities of Amerikkka, circa 2015.) 

Well, that there was a major detour and I'm sorry I didn't put some orange cones out to guide you. Now, back to Assata Shakur... er... I mean Allen Bullock.   

Several days after he made like a Penn State broham on an angry bender after Joe Paterno's firing, Bullock turned himself in at his parents' urging. Like most good parents I know, they expressed deep disappointment over his actions and thought the best way forward was for their son to own what he'd done, to come forward and begin making reparations. Pun intended.

Little did they know that their son's bail—double what some of the six cops who killed Gray enjoyed—would be far out of their economic reach, like so much else in poor communities around this country (the permanent underclass purposefully constructed and carefully maintained with the help of both institutions and the apathetic). Little did they know their son would become the poster child for what happens to rioters who destroy property. 

Now, I'm a curious person, so—after reading this story but before using an orange traffic cone to bash my computer screen into the next solar system—I did a Google search to find out how much time those crazy Nittany kids are serving for flipping over a news van. You're never going to believe what I found. 

Nothing. Surprising, isn't it?

I couldn't find anything about anyone doing any prison time for any of the riotous events in State College, Pennsylvania. Not only that, but I couldn't so much as come up with the name of a person who was charged with felony vandalism for flipping a news media van during the Penn State riots. I find this intriguing, seeing as how Allen Bullock's face and several spectacular photos of him obliterating a cop car are ubiquitous. Anyway, I decided to dig a little deeper into the arrests, charges and convictions of other rioters around the country. 

I looked for anyone facing life imprisonment for rioting following Kentucky's loss to Wisconsin in the Final Four this past April. Same for the riots following their Final Four win in 2012. Same for the Pumpkin Festival in Keene, New Hampshire, last fall. 

Through search after search of riot after riot (or "melees" as they're often called when the "revelers" are not poor and black), I came up with no names or mug shots or trial dates or sentence lengths. I did come up with the spinning wheel of death as my computer sputtered and shrugged, followed by an error message: "Girl, you do know the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results?"

Of course, I do know this. But I also know that I'm already insane. (Partially because I'm a middle-aged woman with hormonal changes.) But mostly because of the relentless and blatant injustice that allows middle- and upper-class white kids to have accountability-free melees, while relegating poor black (and brown) ones to endure severe punishment following riots.  

And where is the outrage from the average citizen who claims to love democracy? Based on my Facebook feed and cocktail party banter, it seems to be reserved for dogs left in hot cars and cheating quarterbacks. But it's crickets when it comes to Allen Bullock, and that along with everything else makes me want to take one of the orange cones in our garage and hurl it through the first available window. 

For all the hopelessness I feel, for how crestfallen I've been while watching Baltimore these past weeks—and noting the deafening silence of too many people I call my friends on the layered and complicated underlying issues—it's no stretch for me to imagine that it must have been damned cathartic in the moment for Bullock to bust up that cop car. But he doesn't deserve to be sleeping in a jail cell because of it.

Email Aaryn Belfer. Aaryn blogs at and you can follow her on Twitter @aarynb.


See all events on Wednesday, Dec 7