A 14 Year Old Robotics Fanatic Arrested For Being Brown

A 14-year-old boy in Irving, TX makes a homemade clock and takes it to school. Instead of teachers and administrators applauding his tenacity and passion for electrical engineering, he is accused of making a bomb, arrested and interrogated without parental supervision.

Why? Because his name is Ahmed Mohamed and he is Islamic.

Ahmed now has a record on file with the local police at 14 years old. Meanwhile, the school district sent a letter home to parents that essentially blames Ahmed for his arrest while encouraging others to perpetuate the racist culture of the area.

People always ask me why I avoid states like Texas and Mississippi (and frankly anywhere outside of a major city), and this is why: cases where narrow-minded people feed into the stereotypes and propaganda shoved down their throats by the media, abuse their power and reinforce what minorities already know: black and brown lives in this country are not valued. Don’t get me wrong; it definitely happens in major cities as well, but it happens less frequently and isn’t as accepted as it is in rural areas and southern states.

People fear what they choose not to understand, and frankly I’m sick of it.

A woman I went to high school with posed this question to me: would this have happened at our high school? My answer to her? Probably. Even though we attended a multi-cultural high school in Chicago that is currently in the Top 10 in the nation, I can’t say for sure something like this wouldn’t happen… because it nearly happened to me.

I can recall a time during my senior year, when a girl posted on her Xanga blog (I’m dating myself) that she was “pro-slavery” and “against gay marriage”. Someone forwarded it to me, which I then forwarded to a bunch of classmates along with some aggressive commentary I’m not proud of that basically said we should take this lying down.

The next morning during 3rd period, I was called into the principal’s office and threatened to suspend me for three days because of my email commentary. Their reasoning: she wrote her “opinion” off-campus, while mine was deemed “on-campus” because someone printed the email on school grounds and it “threatened her safety”.

For those who truly knew me back then, the “threat” was ludicrous: I was friends with nearly half the school, on practically half the non-athletic extra-curriculars (including debate) and everyone knew that I was one of the last people to incite violence. Nevertheless, all they saw was a big black kid threatening a white girl.

I saw through the BS and told them that if they were going to suspend me, they had to suspend her first.

The entire school found out and was in an uproar, despite the administration’s efforts to calm everyone down and avoid press coverage (in which they were unsuccessful). A conference was called a few days later with the principal, my mom, her mom and a Russian translator (because her mom didn’t speak English), and my mom said the same thing I did: to suspend him, you have to suspend her.

10 minutes later, I was back in class with a still-pristine record.

I can only imagine what would have happened to me if this had taken place in Texas. Or better yet, what would have happened if one of my Sudanese classmates brought a homemade clock to school in the aftermath of 9/11? At this time, trains stations were still being evacuated because of anthrax threats. Just like the Twilight Zone episode Monsters Are Due On Maple Street, it’s amazing the lengths people will go based on their prejudices.

Rod Serling said it best:

The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices — to be found only in the minds of men. For the record, prejudices can kill — and suspicion can destroy — and a thoughtless frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all of its own — for the children — and the children yet unborn. And the pity of it is — that these things cannot be confined — to the Twilight Zone..

I want to shine the spotlight on the teachers and administrators that fed into their ignorance and allowed this to happen.

  • What about this kid made you believe him to be a terrorist?
  • What stereotypes are you perpetuating to your students?
  • How will you correct this heinous mistake?
  • In the fight for racial equality and the destruction of systemic racism, what side are you on?

Update, 11:47am PST: WFAA is reporting that the Irving, TX police chief will not pursue charges against Ahmed.

It doesn’t excuse how he was treated, but it’s good to know they won’t pursue bogus charges on a young man that was just excited about exploring electronics.