Racial profiling in Texas

This is 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed, a talented 9th grader living in Irving, Texas. The gifted student felt like his teachers were unaware of how skilled he was and wanted to impress them. So he created a simple electronic clock. In 20 minutes. Yeah, the kid has mad skills. Naturally, when he brought the clock to school with him on Monday, he was praised for his work and encouraged to continue developing his skills. No. Wait. That didn’t happen. Instead, he was arrested on suspicion of building a bomb:

Ahmed Mohamed — who makes his own radios and repairs his own go-kart — hoped to impress his teachers when he brought a homemade clock to MacArthur High on Monday.

Instead, the school phoned police about Ahmed’s circuit-stuffed pencil case.

So the 14-year-old missed the student council meeting and took a trip in handcuffs to juvenile detention. His clock now sits in an evidence room. Police say they may yet charge him with making a hoax bomb — though they acknowledge he told everyone who would listen that it’s a clock.

In the meantime, Ahmed’s been suspended, his father is upset and the Council on American-Islamic Relations is once again eyeing claims of Islamophobia in Irving.

If Ahmed Mohamed were a white boy named Billy Richards, I don’t believe for one second that he’d have been arrested. He’d have been praised for being so gifted. He’d have been encouraged to explore his talents and told that someday he’ll be a successful engineer. But that’s what happens when you have white privilege.

Ahmed’s clock was hardly his most elaborate creation. He said he threw it together 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 and didn’t get quite the reaction he’d hoped for.

“He was like, ‘That’s really nice,’” Ahmed said. “‘I would advise you not to show any other teachers.’”

He kept the clock inside his school bag in English class, but the teacher complained when the alarm beeped in the middle of a lesson. Ahmed brought his invention up to show her afterward.

“She was like, it looks like a bomb,” he said.

“I told her, ‘It doesn’t look like a bomb to me.’”

The teacher kept the clock. When the principal and a police officer pulled Ahmed out of sixth period, he suspected he wouldn’t get it back.

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.”

Why did no one contact his engineering teacher? Why did no one believe Ahmed when he informed them it was just a clock? Why doesn’t a 14-year-old high school student get the benefit of the doubt? Why is he immediately treated as a suspect? The answer may have something to do with him being Muslim. If we had the name and number of Officer “That’s who I thought it was”, we could ask him what role Ahmed’s religion and ethnicity played in his treatment.

Ahmed felt suddenly conscious of his brown skin and his name — one of the most common in the Muslim religion. But the police kept him busy with questions.

The bell rang at least twice, he said, while the officers searched his belongings and questioned his intentions. The principal threatened to expel him if he didn’t make a written statement, he said.

“They were like, ‘So you tried to make a bomb?’” Ahmed said.

“I told them no, I was trying to make a clock.”

“He said, ‘It looks like a movie bomb to me.’”

A “movie bomb”. Riiiight. Because what you see in the movies is just like the real world. Oh, and note the absence of Ahmed’s parents during this interrogation. It’s almost as if Muslims in the United States don’t have the same rights as everyone else.

Ahmed never claimed his device was anything but a clock, said police spokesman James McLellan. And police have no reason to think it was dangerous. But officers still didn’t believe Ahmed was giving them the whole story.

“We have no information that he claimed it was a bomb,” McLellan said. “He kept maintaining it was a clock, but there was no broader explanation.”

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?”

Broader explanation? Broader explanation?! It’s a clock. It tells the time. It’s not a home made Transformer that shifts into a weapon of mass destruction. Someone needs to stop watching so many movies.

Police led Ahmed out of MacArthur about 3 p.m., his hands cuffed behind him and an officer on each arm. A few students gaped in the halls. He remembers the shocked expression of his student counselor — the one “who knows I’m a good boy.”

The police had not established that Ahmed had done anything wrong. Nor was he a threat. And yet he’s in hand cuffs.

“He just wants to invent good things for mankind,” said Ahmed’s father, Mohamed Elhassan Mohamed, who immigrated from Sudan and occasionally returns there to run for president. “But because his name is Mohamed and because of Sept. 11, I think my son got mistreated.”

I hope your son receives every opportunity to invent good things for the benefit of mankind. And I hope he’s not put off by his horrible treatment by school officials and police officers.

In subsequent updates on this story, it has been revealed that no charges will be filed against Ahmed (as if they had any fucking reason to charge him with anything):

The Irving police chief said charges won’t be filed against Ahmed Mohamed, the MacArthur High School freshman arrested Monday after he brought what school officials and police described as a “hoax bomb” on campus.

At a press conference this morning, Chief Larry Boyd said the device — confiscated by an English teacher despite the teen’s insistence that it was a clock — was “certainly suspicious in nature.”

“The student showed the device to a teacher, who was concerned that it was possibly the infrastructure for a bomb,” Boyd said.

Uh-huh. Hmmm. You don’t say? Really?

Then why the fuck was the bomb squad not called?

 

School officers questioned Ahmed about the device and why Ahmed had brought it to school. Boyd said Ahmed was then handcuffed “for his safety and for the safety of the officers” and taken to a juvenile detention center. He was later released to his parents, Boyd said.

Cuffed for his safety? Did they expect him to engage the officers in hand-to-hand combat or something? What reasons did they have for suspecting he might be dangerous?! Dammit, there I go again forgetting that Ahmed is Muslim. And all Muslims are inherently dangerous extremists who want to destroy the US. Even Muslim kids.

Following Ahmed’s arrest, Irving High Principal Daniel Cummings sent out an email (you can read the email at the link; I can’t copy/paste it here) to parents and guardians of Irving High students. In writing about the email, Vox’s Max Fisher says:

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.

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 behavior,” 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.

I’d be curious to see the school’s code of conduct, bc I sincerely doubt there is any prohibition on bringing clocks to school.

Needless to say, this story pissed me off to no end, and so I decided to email the Irving chief of police and Principal Cummings. Here’s the copy of my email to the principal:

Principal Cummings,
Like many US citizens, I awoke today to read multiple headlines regarding the arrest of 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed. After I checked to verify the facts of the case as is currently known to the public, I came to the conclusion that this entire situation was a blatant example of anti-Muslim bigotry.
From the actions of the teacher who, for some reason, was engulfed in irrational fear that a clock was somehow a bomb, despite the fact that Ahmed said that it was a clock, to the lack of a bomb squad called out, to school officials suspending Ahmed even after learning there was no bomb, to the police arresting a harmless child, to his interrogation without his parents present, this situation is yet another example of the way people of color are treated by the school system and the criminal justice system. Had Ahmed been a white boy named Billy who expressed a natural aptitude for electronics, built a clock, and brought it to school, I do not doubt for one second that he’d have been praised for his intellect. But because Ahmed is a brown skinned boy who has a Muslim name, he was racially profiled and judged to be a possible terrorist-in the absence of actual evidence. He was treated as guilty until proven innocent by the very people who should be protecting him-school officials and the police. There was no justification for treating him as a criminal. There was no justification for arresting him. He should not have been suspended. This is a travesty of justice and highlights one of the reasons many people are fed up with police officers and school officials across the country.
You people need to do a  lot better than this. The actions undertaken by school officials are inexcusable and you need to end his suspension, as well publicly apologize to Ahmed and his parents. This boy was humiliated and treated as a terrorist for the “crime” of bringing a piece of technology to school that was praised by his engineering teacher.
You also need to apologize to the parents and guardians whom you sent an email to. That email was a blatant piece of fearmongering which sought to justify the unjustifiable. There was never any threat. There was never any reason to think there was a threat. In addition, to suggest that Ahmed was in violation of the “Student Code of Conduct” is laughable. Is there a prohibition on bringing home made clocks to school?
Sincerely,
an outraged citizen.
There is a bright side to this story. Following his arrest and subsequent release, Ahmed has become something of an internet sensation.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg also joined the social media chorus, extending an open invitation to visit and exhorting Ahmed to “keep building.”

“Having the skill and ambition to build something cool should lead to applause, not arrest,” Zuckerberg wrote. “The future belongs to people like Ahmed.”

Earlier Wednesday at a modest, red-brick house in central Irving, Ahmed and his family welcomed media crews at the front door and in the backyard as they tried to come to grips with the boy’s overnight ascension to international celebrity.

His sisters, 18-year-old Eyman and 17-year-old Ayisha, could hardly keep up with the tweets and stunning news about their little brother. Because Ahmed was never much for social media, the girls set up a Twitter account for him,@IStandWithAhmed, and watched it balloon to thousands of followers within hours.

“We’re trending No. 1!” Ayisha cried to her sister, holding a cellphone over a stuffed coffee table in the living room.

“It’s a blessing and a curse,” Ayisha said of Ahmed’s arrest and subsequent fame. “I don’t think he’ll ever be able to live normally again.”

But they were happy for invitations to visit companies including Google and to move and study in other cities, and for the tweets of support, including one from Hillary Clinton. They recalled how, barely two days earlier, their brother described struggling to hold back tears in front of police officers after his arrest.

Perhaps the best response though, is the following, from President Obama:

 

 

Great response Mr. President. Great response.

I wonder what words of encouragement or outrage we’ll hear from the All Lives Matter crowd.  If they truly believe that all lives matter, they should be criticizing the teacher, the school officials, and the police for treating Ahmed Mohamed as a terrorist. Surely such blatant racism will evoke outrage from that crowd, right?

 

 

 

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Racial profiling in Texas
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5 thoughts on “Racial profiling in Texas

  1. 1

    Looked like a movie bomb?!?! Fuck me sideways, this asshole should lose his job just for that, let alone the false arrest. If you can’t tell the difference between movies and real life, you have no fucking business being a cop. Come to that, every single person involved even peripherally in his training ought to be fired too.

  2. 3

    Lofty:
    Interesting read. Thanks for the link. If that blogger is correct, then Ahmed might be deceiving people about the creation of the clock. That said, such a deception wouldn’t warrant the way he was treated by school officials and police.

  3. 4

    Tony,
    I’d suggest that Ahmed is just an ordinary 14 year old boy, subject to the same urges to show off like any other 14 year old. I remember well how my own little electronic project was greeted with derision when I took it to school at a similar age. I only did it once. I’d made a little audio oscillator in a metal case, added a telephone earpiece to its output, and optimistically labelled it “high power”. That’s what the laughter ended up being.
    Of course Ahmed’s problem is that southern American culture values conformity over the eccentric, if he had turned up with a respectable store bought digital clock he would have just been met with faint derision. Showing the naked guts of an obsolete clock is non conformist and dangerous to the establishment, a bit like pornography. And we know What That Leads To.

  4. 5

    Lofty: I can easily see Ahmed as a teen who just wanted to impress his teachers. You should see Richard Dawkins on Twitter though. He is lambasting Ahmed. Even refers to him as a “kid” (scare quotes and all).

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