When Ahmed Mohamed went to his high school in Irving, Texas, Monday, he was so excited. A teenager with dreams of becoming an engineer, he wanted to show his teacher the digital clock he’d made from a pencil case.
The 14-year-old’s day ended not with praise, but punishment, after the school called police and he was arrested. A photo shows Ahmed, wearing a NASA T-shirt, looking confused and upset as he’s being led out of school in handcuffs.
“They arrested me and they told me that I committed the crime of a hoax bomb, a fake bomb,” the freshman later explained to WFAA after authorities released him.
Irving Police spokesman Officer James McLellan told the station, “We attempted to question the juvenile about what it was and he would simply only tell us that it was a clock.”
The teenager did that because, well, it was a clock, he said.
On Wednesday, police announced that the teen will not be charged.
Chief Larry Boyd said that Ahmed should have been “forthcoming” by going beyond the description that what he made was a clock. But Boyd said that authorities determined that the teenager did not intend to alarm anyone and the device, which the chief called “a homemade experiment,” was innocuous.
I will be as fair as I can here. It was entirely appropriate for a teacher, seeing a student with a strange electronic device, to ask about it, no matter what color he was or what his name was. However, once it became clear it was a clock — and it’s pretty clear it was a clock — that should have been it. At most, they should have told him to not bring home projects in without telling anyone. That should have been it.
But our schools have become reflexive about calling the police. They call the police when one kid kisses a girl on a dare. They call the police when a girl plays around with some chemicals to make a rocket. They call the police when kids write violent stories.
People are trying to make this about race. And that appears to have played a role, based on what Achmed says the police said to him. But I really don’t think it’s the defining factor here. Our schools have become increasingly paranoid about … well, anything. Doug Mataconis:
Ever since the Columbine shooting in 1999 and everything that has followed it, schools have increasingly adopted so-called “zero tolerance” policies aimed at anything that even remotely suggests the idea of violence. This has led to extreme absurdities that have been reported in the media over the years, such as schoolchildren being disciplined for playing a schoolyard game and using their fingers as simulated guns, and even a child who was reprimanded for shaping a Pop-Tart into something allegedly resembling a gun. In almost none of these cases have these policies ever actually prevented a violent attack or uncovered a threat that authorities otherwise would not have been aware of. Indeed, most of the successful attacks in schools that have occurred have been situations where there had been no warning at all that the perpetrator would become violent. Additionally, statistics make clear that schools are actually safer today than they ever have been in that reported violence or attempted violence is at an all-time low compared to other times in the past. Proponents of the “Zero Tolerance” policies will claim, obviously, that the increase in school safety is attributable to those policies, but there’s simply no evidence to support that. More importantly, notwithstanding the fact that schools are safer, the rhetoric from school districts, law enforcement, and the media leads one to believe that they are in fact more dangerous than ever before. This leads to paranoia on all fronts, and precisely the kind of absurd situations that would have been dismissed as nothing to worry about decades ago. In this case, it led to a 9th grader with an interest in robotics being treated as a criminal and a terrorist even though there was no evidence that the device he had in his backpack was anything other than what he claimed it would be.
We encourage this. Our media encourage this when they give non-stop attention to every incident of violence. Gun controllers encourage this when they falsely claim we’ve had an explosion of school shootings. Politicians encourage this when they pretend our children are in constant danger to advance whatever agenda they want.
This is more than just dumbass school officials. This is a dumbass culture of paranoia, zero tolerance, panic-mongering and a psychotic need to call in the authorities for everything.