A Muslim teen with dreams of becoming an engineer brought a clock he made to his Texas high school on Monday.
Then this happened: the teen, 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed, sporting a NASA t-shirt, was arrested, handcuffed, and suspended for three days. The ACLU says the arrest has sparked questions about racial profiling.
"They arrested me and told me I committed a crime of a hoax bomb—a fake bomb," the freshman at MacArthur High told News 8.
Mohamed showed his creation to his engineering teacher at Monday morning, according to reporting by the Dallas Morning News. "He was like, ‘That’s really nice,’" Mohamed said. "‘I would advise you not to show any other teachers.’"
The clock made a beeping sound during his English class, and when he showed it to her, that teacher said: "that looks like a bomb." He was taken out of class during a later period by the principal and a police officer. The Dallas paper continues:
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.’”
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.”
He was taken to police headquarters where he was interrogated. Local news NBC-DFW continues:
"I tried making a phone call to my father. They said, ‘You’re in the middle of an interrogation. You can’t have a phone call,'" he said. "I really don’t think it’s fair, because I brought something to school that wasn’t a threat to anyone. I didn’t do anything wrong. I just showed my teachers something and I end up being arrested later that day."
Irving Police Chief Larry Boyd said late Wednesday morning that no charges would be filed against Mohamed, though, as WGCU reports, police seemed to be unable to believe that the student had simply brought in something he made to show his teacher.
"He would simply only tell us that it was a clock," said police spokesman James McLellan. "He didn't offer an explanation as to what it was for, why he created this device, why he brought it to school."
Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas, stated Wednesday that "Mohamed’s avoidable ordeal raises serious concerns about racial profiling and the disciplinary system in Texas schools. Instead of encouraging his curiosity, intellect and ability, the Irving ISD saw fit to throw handcuffs on a frightened 14 year-old Muslim boy wearing a NASA t-shirt and then remove him from school.
"We should not deprive our children of liberty when they haven’t broken the law, and we should not suspend them from school when they haven’t broken the rules. The State of Texas in general, and Irving ISD in particular, need to take a long, hard look at their disciplinary policies to ensure that blanket prejudices and the baseless suspicions they engender don’t deprive our students of an educational environment where their talents can thrive," Burke continued.
Glenn Greenwald writes Thursday that the arrest was hardly an aberration, but "highly illustrative of the rotted fruit of this sustained climate of cultivated fear and demonization" that has existed since 9/11.
Greenwald goes on to describe the arrest as "the natural, inevitable byproduct of the culture of fear and demonization that has festered and been continuously inflamed for many years." Mohamed's arrest was not surprising, he says: "You can’t have a government that has spent decades waging various forms of war against predominantly Muslim countries — bombing seven of them in the last six years alone — and then act surprised when a Muslim 14-year-old triggers vindictive fear and persecution because he makes a clock for school."
Support for the teen has flooded social media, with many taking to Twitter with the hashtag #IStandWithAhmed. In addition to the support Mohamed got via Twitter from scientists, his arrest also got the attention of President Barack Obama and presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, with Obama inviting the teen to bring his clock to the White House:
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
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