On Monday, teachers at the Irving Independent School District in Irving, Texas, had police arrest a 14-year-old student named Ahmed Mohamed for bringing to school a simple electronic clock he had built as an engineering project. Police escorted Mohamed out of school in handcuffs — photos of the arrest show him wearing a NASA T-shirt — and accused him of trying to build a bomb.
Cool clock, Ahmed. Want to bring it to the White House? We should inspire more kids like you to like science. It's what makes America great.
— President Obama (@POTUS) September 16, 2015
This arrest, clearly, should never have happened. But one would like to expect at least that the Irving school, after just a cursory glance at the clock and maybe a conversation with Mohamed’s engineering teacher, who had praised the project, would realize its mistake. That the school would apologize to Mohamed for humiliating and terrorising him, acknowledge its mistake, and use it as a teaching moment to discuss racism and profiling.
— Robert Wilonsky (@RobertWilonsky) September 16, 2015
That is not what has happened. Instead, even after learning that the clock was just a clock built as an educational project, the school suspended Mohamed for three days and sent out this letter to parents on Tuesday:
The letter, which acknowledges no mistake whatsoever on the school’s part even though by then school officials knew the clock was harmless, is infuriating to read for its tone-deafness.
— Brown Saraah ☪ (@Brown_Saraah) September 16, 2015
It seems to imply that Mohamed was at fault for violating the “Student Code of Conduct.” The letter also asks students to “immediately report any suspicious items and / or suspicious behaviour,” in effect asking students and parents help to perpetuate the school’s practice of racist profiling, even after that profiling had been clearly demonstrated as without merit. It is appalling that school officials would still think this way even after their arrest had been exposed as a horrible mistake, but it is especially telling that they would wish to announce this fact to students’ parents as well.
— CBS News (@CBSNews) September 16, 2015
The social media support for the teenager poured in from other high-profile figures. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg praised Mohamed’s “skill and ambition” and extended an invite to the teenager. “The future belongs to people like Ahmed,” Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post. “Ahmed, if you ever want to come by Facebook, I’d love to meet you. Keep building.”
— Liz Heron (@lheron) September 16, 2015
Earlier, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton also offered praise for the student on Twitter:
Assumptions and fear don't keep us safe—they hold us back. Ahmed, stay curious and keep building. https://t.co/ywrlHUw3g1
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) September 16, 2015
Google extended an invitation to Mohamed to attend the company’s science fair this weekend. Mohamed will not be charged with possessing a hoax bomb because there’s no evidence the 14-year-old meant to cause alarm Monday at MacArthur High School in the Dallas suburb of Irving, according to police Chief Larry Boyd.
Young genius invents racist idiot detector. #IStandWithAhmed
— Sarah (@witchiepoo) September 16, 2015
Soon after the incident, #IStandWithAhmed was trending on Twitter.
Thank you fellow supporters. We can ban together to stop this racial inequality and prevent this from happening again pic.twitter.com/fBlmckoafU
— Ahmed Mohamed (@IStandWithAhmed) September 16, 2015
Ahmed was taken out of his class by the principal and questioned by five police officers before being taken to a juvenile detention centre where he had his fingerprints taken. Mohamed, from the ninth grade, was suspended from school. He said he was unable to contact his parents during the questioning. In a video from the Dallas Morning News, he said the incident made him feel like he “wasn’t a human”, but a “criminal”.
Perhaps it’s time for Ahmed Mohamed to look for a better school which will nurture his obvious talent and doesn’t try to blame the victims of its own incompetence?