On April 28, social commentator and New York Daily News senior justice writer Shaun King brought a small town crime story to national attention, setting flame to the gasoline of Internet outrage.
Levar Allen of Bossier City, Louisiana, was repeatedly written about by his local paper for success in various high school sports, from football to wrestling, made headlines for being arrested last month. On April 22, 17-year-old Allen was arrested by the Bossier Sheriff’s Office and charged with contributing to the delinquency of a juvenile and possession of child pornography.
He had exchanged sexually explicit videos and photographs with his white, 16-year-old girlfriend.
Allen’s mother, Chastity Washington, said Allen’s girlfriend began the exchange and claims that her son was arrested due to his race.
“A little girl sent him a video, she was 16. He sent her a video and he got charged,” Washington told KSLA. One was “a video of a young lady doing an obscene act to herself. And then he sent one doing the same thing. I think because she’s white, the parents got upset that she’s been doing what she’s been doing.”
King then called the arrest a “bogus symptom of the mass criminalization of black folk in the New Jim Crow” in a national column. The story quickly spread to Slate, BET and The Root.
Cue the outrage machine.
Almost immediately, Twitter exploded with commenters expressing their anger.
In this case, many see the couple’s differing races being at the root of the arrest.
A petition started on Change.org, demanding authorities “Free Levar Allen or Arrest Her too,” has more than 30,000 supporters.
A thread on the popular LSU football blog Tiger Droppings titled “Levar Allen is getting lynched by Bossier City,” appeared, racking up seven pages of comments.
“The girl is white and initiated the sexting….The kid is a three star athlete and has never had run ins with the law. Now he’s got to deal with this for the rest of his life,” one commenter wrote. “This is absolutely about race. The girl’s parents found out their little angel wasn’t so innocent and it was also with a black kid? Oh no. Can’t let that slide. Have to ruin the kid,” added another. “This does not surprise me in anyway what so ever. We moved up here a few years ago and I have never seen anything as racist as this place,” wrote a third.
In his column, King wrote:
But Levar lives in the deep South. He’s black. And it appears his biggest mistake wasn’t doing what the majority of American teens have done. His biggest mistake was doing so with a white girl.
Her parents called the police when they discovered what was happening. Of course, they arrested Levar and he was charged with contributing to the delinquency of a juvenile and possession of child pornography for the video he still had of her on his phone …
Of course race has everything to do with Levar Allen being charged with these trumped-up crimes. Millions upon millions of teenagers are doing this very thing and he was selectively targeted among them, and made an example of, because he crossed a line that clearly irritated not only her white parents but white law enforcement officers as well.
Except, not only was the girl charged as well, she was charged first.
On Thursday, Bossier Parish Sheriff Julian Whittington held a press conference to clear the air. After the conference, he gave a telephone interview with The Washington Post.
Being a minor, the girl was charged under the state’s sexting laws, but since Allen was 17, he was charged as an adult. Furthermore, in “evidence recovered from the young man’s phone, which has literally hundreds of [sexually explicit] photographs and videos, we were able to find another video of a 16-year-old girl,” Whittington said, adding that Allen has been charged with two more counts of possession of child pornography, and the other girl in question has been charged for sexting.
None of this was reported in the original KSLA story, though the fact that the girl was charged was later added without a correction. In addition to the sheriff, The Washington Post reached out to Jeff Ferrell, the reporter of the story, but he had not responded by press time.
Whittington claimed he told KSLA all of this during the interview.
“When he ran the story, he left those facts out,” Whittington said. “We’ve been slandered and slammed over something we handled by the book. If my people had handled it any differently, I would have fired them.”
KSLA news director Jayne Ruben responded to the sheriff’s allegations, telling the Shreveport Times the station stands by its story but admits it should have mentioned the girl’s arrest in the original story. He also said it has been updated (though no correction appears on the story.)
“Whose going to re-read a story you’ve already read?” Whittington asked the Shreveport Times. “Nobody.”
But the Bossier Sheriff’s Office said this isn’t the first time it has made this sort of arrest.
Below are two examples, offered in an email to The Washington Post by Bossier Sheriff’s Office spokesman Lt. Bill Davis.
- 19-year-old male charged with two counts of distribution of child pornography and 16-year-old girl charged with sexting (BOTH ARE WHITE)
- 17-year-old male charged with child pornography and 15 year-old-girl charged with sexting (BOTH ARE BLACK)
When asked about the charges, Bossier Sheriff’s Lt. Bill Davis emphatically dismissed charges of racism.
“I have nothing to say about that,” he told KSLA. “It doesn’t matter what your race, what your religion, what your ethnicity, don’t do child pornography. Plain and simple.”
He also reminded reporters of the 2014 investigation and the anti-sexting campaign that followed.
“We had our detectives go to every high school and every middle school here in Bossier Parish and talked to all of the students about the consequences of not only sexting but how it can lead into child pornography,” added Davis.
The reason for the different charges comes down to Louisiana’s sexting law, which states “No person under the age of seventeen years shall knowingly and voluntarily use a computer or telecommunication device to transmit an indecent visual depiction of himself to another person.”
Given that Allen, who is 17, had the video on his phone and the girl was 16, he was instead charged under the state’s child pornography laws.