Ahmed Mohamed, a 9th grader in Irving, Texas, was led from his school in handcuffs earlier this week. His crime? Bringing his DIY clock circuit to school. The first report on this incident was filed in the Dallas Morning News.
Perhaps you’re thinking, hey, maybe it had exposed wires and a display, maybe it could kind of look like a bomb. And that is exactly right. But that single thought — that this project might look like a movie prop from a bad action movie — was enough to have this child arrested. The Irving Police Department released this photo of Ahmed’s clock:
While many have been quick to jump onto the fact that Ahmed is of Middle Eastern decent, and that racism could be at play, let’s bypass that point for now. Let’s focus on the humanity involved, and the project.
For starters: clocks are not bombs. Circuits are not bombs. The part that makes a bomb a bomb is the explosive. Anyone with a modicum of Maker knowledge could have looked at this and seen that it is just a circuit. But if your education on bombs were to come exclusively from movies, well then, maybe this project did look a little like a prop.
This quote from the police spokesman James McLellan to Dallas News stands out
We have no information that he claimed it was a bomb. He kept maintaining it was a clock, but there was no broader explanation. 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?
But he didn’t do any of those things. He didn’t leave it anywhere suspicious. He was literally arrested because it is feasible that someone could have been alarmed if he had done something that he didn’t do. If that sentence hurt your brain, it’s because the logic at play here is dumb.
But what if he was saying things that would make people think it was a bomb?
In the news reports from Dallas News, they address this. He proudly showed his first teacher of the day his clock project, looking for feedback. This is important. He brought this device to a teacher in the morning and showed it off. He encouraged the teacher to look at it. The teacher gave him positive feedback but also said, according to Ahmed, “I would advise you not to show any other teachers.” And he did not.
There are no reports that he said anything to lead anyone to think it was a bomb.
Sadly, a teacher later heard the thing beep in his backpack and asked what it was, causing them to “discover” it in his bag.
My wife is a teacher. I have children in school. I would want a teacher who found a suspicious item in a backpack to report it to the office. But what happened next is where this story took a surreal turn.
Given the chance to inspect the item, get corroboration from the other teachers who had seen it, and hear the kid’s story, they opted to have Ahmed handcuffed and led from the school to a detention facility and interrogated. He was then suspended.
Makers make things. We make robots, clocks, toys, drones, and any number of of items. Many of these things have exposed wires and digital displays. We shouldn’t have to worry that an absolutely harmless project is going to get us arrested.
What do you think? Did the school and the police go too far?