They handcuffed the kid.
I for one remember being 14 years old: I spent it overwhelmed. In junior high (7th and 8th grades in my school district at the time), my general proficiency at the whole learning thing bit me where it hurt the most: my ego. My success in 7th grade placed me in advanced classes the next school year that even carried the letter “X” in their name to signify their specialness. “English 8X,” and such.
It overwhelmed me. “Math 8X” was algebra delivered one year early and some geometry offered up two years early, and I nearly flunked. I liked my side projects too much: I wrote all the time, more than was expected or required in my English class by my English teacher, because that is what a 14-year-old who likes a certain subject in school does. I would bring my extra work into class to show my teacher because I could not not think about Math and Science enough that year. My teacher was bright enough to let me read my work in front of class to help me along, because I suspect she knew that my fragile ego needed to know that there indeed were things I could do well.
So I understand Ahmed Mohamed, a 14-year-old at MacArthur High School, near Dallas, Texas. He is the opposite of me: he loves science and engineering and devotes whatever extra time he has to tinkering and building things. On Monday, he brought in to school something he had thrown together in 20 minutes: a clock. He was arrested, led out of school in handcuffs by five police officers, and given a three-day suspension, which he is still serving. He was spared spending any time in jail, but he was fingerprinted and locked up in the Irving juvenile detention center. Here is the moment of his arrest (please notice the NASA t-shirt):
I expect they will have more to say tomorrow, but Ahmed's sister asked me to share this photo. A NASA shirt! pic.twitter.com/nR4gt992gB
— Anil Dash (@anildash) September 16, 2015
According to the Dallas Morning News, Ahmed showed the clock to his favorite teacher upon arriving at his high school. The teacher told him to not show it off, which confused the student. When the alarm went off during the afternoon, because clock, Ahmed was asked to stop it and he voluntarily showed it to the teacher after that class. That teacher decided for herself what she thought it might be: a bomb.
“She was like, ‘It looks like a bomb,’ Ahmed said.
“I told her, ‘It doesn’t look like a bomb to me.'”
The teacher kept the clock, which remains with the Irving, Texas, Police Department as “evidence.”
Later, the school principal, accompanied with a police officer, showed up at his next classroom, which is an image that brings fear even to my heart, and Ahmed was brought to the principal’s office. Four police officers were waiting there to speak with him.
And there he heard the one sentence that reveals all: “They led Ahmed into a room where four other police officers waited. He said an officer he’d never seen before leaned back in his chair and remarked: ‘Yup. That’s who I thought it was.'”
“That’s who I thought it was.” As you can see from the photo, Ahmed is brown-skinned, and as you might surmise from his name, Ahmed Mohammad’s family is Moslem.
Ahmed continues: “They were like, ‘So you tried to make a bomb?’ I told them no, ‘I was trying to make a clock.’ He said, ‘It looks like a movie bomb to me.'”
The police department officially stands by its first surmise of “bomb,” and it remains skeptical of Ahmed’s intentions. According to the Morning News: “Officers still don’t believe Ahmed was giving them the whole story. ‘We have no information that he claimed it was a bomb,’ a police spokesman said. ‘He kept maintaining it was a clock, but there was no broader explanation.’ Police say they may yet charge him with making a hoax bomb—though they acknowledge he told everyone who would listen that it is merely a clock.”
(“Broader explanation?” Um, yeah, “clock” covers it.)
“Asked what broader explanation the boy could have given, the spokesman explained: ‘It could reasonably be mistaken as a device if left in a bathroom or under a car. The concern was, what was this thing built for? Do we take him into custody?'”
A letter sent yesterday from the school district helps muddy the matter enough to encourage parents to look at Ahmed and his family with just little bit more uncomfortable and unwarranted scrutiny and suspicion than they possibly face every day anyway:
While we do not have [emphasis theirs] any threats to our school community, we want you to be aware that the Irving Police Department responded to a suspicious-looking item on campus yesterday. We are pleased to report that after the police department’s assessment, the item discovered at school did not pose a threat to your child’s safety.
I recommend using this opportunity to talk with your child about the Student Code of Conduct and specifically not bringing items to school that are prohibited.
The letter does not mention that clocks are not prohibited by the district. Nor are clock-resembling items. It goes on, “Also, this is a good time to remind your child how important it is to immediately report any suspicious items and/or suspicious behavior they observe to any school employee so we can address it right away.” Report? Ahmed voluntarily showed the clock himself twice to two teachers.
If I am Ahmed’s family, I am taking my child to a new district. And if my (not-yet-existent) child, Mark Aldrich, Jr., was a student there and I received this letter, I would take my child, my non-Moslem child, out of there, too.
Because this is what the letter should have said: “An incident that was not an incident and should not have left our halls took place Monday, when one of our well-meaning instructors thought that a pupil’s extra-curricular project—a clock—that the pupil brought into our high school was not a clock. Our instructor insisted that we notify the authorities. The object did not in itself appear to be suspicious, as it looked like a clock made by a 14-year-old with an interest in electronics. Further, the pupil voluntarily showed his work to his teachers, with pride in his facility at building things. He apologized for its alarm going off in class and agreed he should serve one class section in detention for that. We reassured the instructor that we have seen clocks made by 14-year-olds before, and this was a fine example. We urge you to encourage your children to build things, especially for the upcoming Science Fair.”
If “Mark Aldrich, Jr.” was the name of the student who built the clock, my fictional letter is the one that would have been sent out.
Anil Dash, a writer and entrepreneur who helps app creators publicize their creations, has been in the lead of spreading the word about this story (he has been in touch with the family and his account tweeted the photo of the arrest) and he created a Google File for people to use and make suggestions for other things Ahmed (and other young, aspiring inventors) can make: Help Ahmed Make! This turns the story in to a positive one:
— Anil Dash (@anildash) September 16, 2015
I agree. “Teachers shouldn’t respond to inventive kids by calling the cops.”
A Twitter account that Mr. Dash verifies as one Ahmed’s family set up last night sent out this message this morning:
— Ahmed Mohamed (@IStandWithAhmed) September 16, 2015
It is a story with an unhappy start, but maybe, just maybe, it is developing into a positive one.
Oh, and this:
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
The WordPress Daily Prompt for September 16 asks, “Fears evolve over time. What is one fear you’ve conquered?”
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