How Ahmed Mohamed’s arrest backfired
It all started so innocently. Ahmed Mohamed is a geek; robotics and electronics are his passion. He builds gadgets, repairs computers and makes his own radio. Ahmed assembled an electronic clock in about 20 minutes before bedtime on Sunday: a circuit board and power supply wired to a digital display, all strapped inside a case with a tiger hologram on the front. He showed it to his engineering teacher first thing Monday morning who said, “That’s really nice,” but warned Ahmed: “I would advise you not to show any other teachers.”
Ahmed kept the clock in his backpack in his English class, but when the clock beeped at the top of the hour, the teacher wanted to see it. “It looks like a bomb!” she said.
The teacher kept the clock, and the principal and a police officer pulled Ahmed out of sixth period, into an interrogation room where four other police officers waited. Ahmed said that an officer he had never seen before remarked, “Yup. That’s who I thought it was.”
Ahmed suddenly felt conscious of his brown skin and his Muslim name – Ahmed Mohamed (his parents are from Somalia). The police interrogated him for 90 minutes, searched his belongings and questioned his intentions. The principal threatened to expel him if he did not give a written statement. “So you tried to make a bomb?” one officer asked. Ahmed replied, “I was trying to make a clock.” “It looks like a movie bomb to me,” the officer shot back. They accused him of making a “hoax bomb.”
Police arrested Ahmed and led him out of school at about 3 p.m., his hands cuffed behind him and an officer holding each arm. A few students gaped in the halls. Ahmed remembers the shocked expression of his student counsellor “who knows I’m a good boy.” Ahmed was spared the inside of a cell. The police sent him out of the juvenile detention center to meet his parents shortly after taking his fingerprints. The principal suspended Ahmed for three days.
The logical course of action should have been for the principal to summon the engineering teacher and ask him to explain if the clock posed any danger. He did not.
It is illegal for the police to interrogate a minor in the absence of his parents. If the police really thought Ahmed had made a bomb, they would have called in the bomb squad. The police did not charge Ahmed with any crime. Neither the principal nor the police have apologized to Ahmed.
The picture of the wiry, handcuffed teenager, wearing a quizzical expression on his face that reads, “What have I done?” went viral. Supporters started a Twitter campaign with the #StandWithAhmed hashtag. Within two days there were over a million tweets from all over the world in support of Ahmed.
President Obama tweeted: “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.”
Facebook’s founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg sent two tweets: “Having the skill and ambition to build something cool should lead to applause, not arrest. The future belongs to people like Ahmed. Ahmed, if you ever want to come by Facebook, I’d love to meet you. Keep building.”
Google Science Fair tweeted: “Hey Ahmed- we’re saving a seat for you at this weekend’s Google Science Fair…want to come? Bring your clock!”
Twitter itself tweeted: “Would you consider interning with us? We’d love it — DM us!”
Hillary Clinton’s tweet read: “Assumptions and fear don’t keep us safe—they hold us back. Ahmed, stay curious and keep building.”
Republican politicians had nothing to say about Ahmed’s ordeal.
For Ahmed, who wants to be an engineer, the most gratifying comment came from a Professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), his “dream school.” During a live interview on MSNBC on Wednesday, September 16, Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, an astrophysics professor at MIT, surprised the 14-year-old by inviting him to go on a tour of MIT and Harvard University. Professor Prescod-Weinstein said, “You are the kind of student we want at places like MIT and Harvard. You are my ideal student. A creative, independent thinker like you is the kind of person who should become a physicist.”
It is perfectly reasonable to be suspicious of a device and to have it checked out. It is, however, not all right to handcuff a minor, lead him through the school in front of his fellow pupils and then arrest, detain and interrogate him in the absence of an attorney or his parents. Being placed in handcuffs and detained without the presence of a lawyer or his parents is an abuse of his human rights. To add insult to injury, he was suspended for an additional three days from his school – again without cause. Would a white kid have suffered such ignominy?
The villain in this story is the school’s principal, who sent an asinine letter to the parents basking in the glory of having ‘thwarted’ a terrorist attack! He reminded the parents to review the Student’s Code of Conduct. Nowhere in the code does it say that a student cannot bring a clock to school. While the rest of America and the world sees in Ahmed a geek, a nerd and a prodigy, the principal and the English teacher saw in Ahmed an Arab-looking Muslim terrorist! In the process, they revealed not only their innate Islamophobia, but also their complete ignorance of science and engineering.
Since the principal refused to rescind his three-day suspension, Ahmed has decided to leave that school and enroll at a private school.
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