A 14-year-old student and aspiring inventor in the Irving, Texas public school system built a homemade clock and took it to school. Unfortunately for the kid his name was Ahmed Mohamed, and people are scared of many things, including bright kids named Ahmed with pencil boxes full of circuitry.
As the Dallas Morning News reported, Ahmed "missed the student council meeting and took a trip in handcuffs to juvenile detention." Police said they considered charging him, reported the News, "with making a hoax bomb," even though Ahmed never stopped insisting it was a clock. The News's account of his arrest is harrowing:
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.”
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.’”
The story of Ahmed's clock went viral and the usual social media outrage ensued. By late Wednesday morning, Irving police had dropped the case. No charges were filed. The Dallas paper reported that Irving police chief Larry Boyd said he was confident it was a "naive accident," but insisted response to the situation "would have been the same" whatever the boy's ethnicity.
Ahmed Mohamed is just one in a pretty long list of kids who have fallen afoul of jittery administrators and aggressive policing after doing something that might have been ignored or merited no more than a slap on the wrist a generation ago. Here's a brief selection of some of the more inexplicable cases.
In 2011, a 13-year-old student was arrested for burping in class. CBS reported the student's parents sued "an Albuquerque public school principal, a teacher and a city police officer." The boy had "burped audibly" during PE, according to the report, and then allegedly "transported to the juvenile center without his parents being notified." The boy was never formally charged with anything.
Sarah Bustamante, age 12, was arrested in 2012 for spraying perfume on herself in class. A Guardian report on policing in US schools highlighted her case. Bustamante said she was being teased by other students about body odor. After she spritzed herself, the officer assigned to her Austin, Texas school arrested the girl. She was charged with disrupting the class.
A Georgia middle school student and her mom were arrested in 2010 because the girl had ibuprofen. The girl had been given higher-dose, prescription-strength ibuprofen by the mom. The pills were only discovered, Time reported, after another student claimed she had a knife in her purse.
Police in Charlton, Massachusetts dunned a 5-year-old for overdue library books. The books were months overdue. CBS Boston reported the girl "was so afraid that she burst into tears."
In 2008, a Florida boy was arrested for farting in class. Citing the sheriff's report of the arrest, the Daily News reported the 13-year-old "continually disrupted his classroom environment" with his honking butt. The boy also kept switching off other students' computers. The boy was charged with disrupting school activities. To be frank, this is probably the one we understand the most—we were all trapped in a classroom with that guy, at some point.
Luckily, there is justice: people from President Obama to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg have Mohamed's back:
School administrators across the country would well to heed the advice of Pink Floyd: Leave them kids alone!
Photos by Anil Dash/Twitter