Questioning racial profiling in Ahmed Mohamed’s confusing arrest
Our adolescent years are often remembered as a series of awkward growth spurts, parent carpools, and driver’s ed. However, in the case of Ahmed Mohamed, the 14-year-old Texas engineering prodigy who brought a homemade clock to school, things didn’t quite go as expected.
The powerful image of a confused middle schooler being taken away in handcuffs has cycled through thousands of international media platforms in the past couple of weeks. The teen, identified as Mohamed, donned a NASA shirt as he was taken into custody by local officers after his teacher mistook his homemade clock as a bomb. Thrust into interrogation without an adult or lawyer, Mohamed was left confused and too shell-shocked to answer their pressing questions.
Our nation has had its fair share of security threats, and I can appreciate that institutions, especially schools, are taking the issue of security seriously. We deserve to have the right to make intentional decisions about public safety. As Americans, we pride ourselves on our top-tier defense and safety through our anthems, our flags, and our spirit. But this story brings to light an underlying issue of racial profiling within our country.
Up until this point, despite my intentional awareness of racial profiling, I didn’t have an issue with Mohamed’s story––we can’t be lighthearted about security threats. If there is a possibility of someone injuring hundreds of young students, some form of action needs to be taken.
Mohamed and his family practice the religion of Islam, one that has received negative connotations known as Islamophobia––the fear that all Muslims are dangerous or pose a threat to society. The reactions of his peers and teachers––that same kind of fear––is what led Mohamed to change schools entirely.
I don’t have a problem with law enforcement acting on potential threats. But when the pressures and conditions are so public, so embarrassing, and so unprecedented that a high school freshman actually questions whether or not he’s a terrorist, I do have a problem with that.
If the teacher Mohamed showed the clock to had contacted authorities and handled the potential threat in a mature fashion, things might have been different. However, Mohamed’s case went from excitement to hoax bomb threat in a matter of minutes. Other kids aren’t treated like this: 14 year old Taylor Wilson built a nuclear reactor in his parents’ basement and he was awarded prizes from science fairs––not an arrest.
Although the response from celebrity figures has been overwhelmingly positive, including support from President Obama himself, it’s important to remember that this issue isn’t over––it’s not some two-week CNN headline. It’s peoples’ lives. It’s their faith. It’s their families. And it’s about time that we address our feelings of safety with consideration to those who face consequential oppression everyday.
Police responded appropriately to Mohamed’s unusual case
The Knight Errant previously published an opinions piece by Elizabeth Kupchella, in which she explained that she believed that the situation of Ahmed Mohamed, the Texas student who brought a homemade clock to school, was handled poorly by police and school administrators, and was an example of Islamophobia and racial profiling in the United States.
I have to say, that while I liked her writing, I definitely disagree with her opinion.
Now, I think that it’s important to highlight that Mohamed didn’t “build” a clock. What he actually did, as explained in a video by Thomas Talbot, who has over 15 years experience working with technology for USC and the Department of defence, was buy a standard alarm clock, take it out of its plastic case, and screw it into a suitcase. I think it’s also important to note that when Mohamed brought his clock to his first hour engineering class, he encountered no issues with the school. However, his engineering teacher told him not to bring the clock around the school, because understandably people might not have known what it was. In spite of his teacher’s instructions, Mohamed brought the clock to his English class and set off the clock’s alarm, at which point the principal became involved and the police were called. The police questioned Mohamed for an hour, where they said he was passive aggressive and didn’t cooperate when the police tried to figure out what was going on. At the end of questioning, Mohamed was arrested for making a fake bomb hoax, which is a misdemeanor in Texas, and was suspended for three days.
That’s it. Mohamed was soon allowed to return to his family and no charges were even filed against him, although they could have been. Now to me, it seems like the police acted responsibly and professionally, and handled the overall situation quite well. I don’t believe that this was an issue of racial profiling at all; I think any student regardless of race who had done what Mohamed did would have been treated the same way.
Saying other kids, like Taylor Wilson, aren’t treated the same is simply not true. Taylor Wilson did build a nuclear reactor at his house, and he did get lots of awards, but he worked openly and under constant supervision by professors and engineers. In fact, the “radioactive boy scout,” David Hahn from Michigan tried to build a nuclear reactor in secret, and he was arrested and investigated by the FBI. Both of these kids attempted to expand their learning and challenge themselves in private through these projects, while Mohamed screwed a clock into a suitcase that police said resembled a bomb, brought it to his school, and set off the alarm against the instruction of a teacher. To me this doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the pursuit of knowledge and exploring science.
His sister was suspended for making bomb threats (which, she says she has nothing to do with––though I have a hard time believing that she would be suspended with no evidence), his dad has run for president of Sudan two times despite living near Dallas, and his sister also coached him through his entire interview with Marc Cuban regarding the incident. Despite all of this, the Mohameds have benefitted from the incident, with Mohamed receiving thousands of dollars worth of free gifts from tech companies, receiving shoutouts and invites from dozens of influential figures such as Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter, and the President, and receiving a scholarship to a private school in Qatar, where the family now lives. Despite bringing what police described as a hoax bomb to school, Mohammed has somehow been showered with gifts and praise and is now treated like a hero.