Like any young inventor in the making, Ahmed Mohamed loves to build things in his spare time. Where most kids his age are constructing Minecraft forts, Mohamed's building his own go-karts and simple radios.
On Monday, the 14-year-old freshman decided to share his knack for creating functional gadgets with his teachers at MacArthur High in Irving, Texas. But instead of deserved praise, he found himself being arrested and escorted out of his new school in handcuffs.
Mohamed built a basic digital clock using a handful of circuit boards, a digital display, and a pencil case as a housing. When he tried to show his clock to his engineering teacher, Mohamed told The Dallas Morning News, the instructor warned him to keep the invention to himself.
“He was like, ‘That’s really nice,’” Mohamed recounted. “‘I would advise you not to show any other teachers.’”
Mohamed planned to keep his clock in his backpack for the rest of the day, but when it beeped during an English class, another teacher demanded to see what it was. According to Mohamed, his English teacher, like his engineering instructor, incorrectly assumed that it was a bomb. This time, though, the teacher took the clock, contacted the school's principal, and alerted local authorities.
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Mohamed, it should be pointed out, is a Muslim of Sudanese ancestry, and the way that he was treated by his teacher and Irving police reek of unabashed racism and Islamophobia.
Despite his repeated insistence that the clock was a clock, Mohamed was pulled out of class and questioned by police officers who asserted that the clock (which, again, was made out of a pencil case) looked like a "movie bomb."
“They were like, ‘So you tried to make a bomb?’” Mohamed said. "I told them no, I was trying to make a clock.”
According to Mohamed, a principal at MacArthur High, threatened him with expulsion unless he provided a written statement admitting that he'd attempted to bring an explosive into the school. Mohamed maintained that his clock was a clock, but the police refused to believe him.
“We have no information that he claimed it was a bomb,” Irving Police representative James McLellan admitted. “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?”
"Have you seen the photo that was released by the PD department?" Irving School District Director of Communications Lesley Weaver said in a phone call. "The only thing that I would ask is that people see the image. I've heard that if people saw that beneath a car or in an airport, they'd be worried. My understanding is that people didn't think that it was a clock."
Ultimately, Mohamed was handcuffed in front of other students and escorted out of the school by two armed police officers. The teenager was then fingerprinted at a local juvenile detention center and suspended from school for three days. No official charges have been made against him, but his homemade clock is being kept as evidence.
Understandably, his parents are furious about the way their son was treated by the people meant to nurture his creativity.
“He just wants to invent good things for mankind,” Mohamed Elhassan, Ahmed's father, said of his son. “But because his name is Mohamed and because of Sept. 11, I think my son got mistreated.”
Elhassan's concerns about the community's mistreatment of his son may not be entirely unfounded.
Earlier this year Irving's mayor Beth Van Duyne stepped into the national spotlight when she backed Texas House Bill 562, commonly referred to as the "anti-sharia" bill. H.B. 562 bans the practice of "foreign law," but many Irving Muslims claim that the bill is a thinly veiled attempt at codifying anti-Muslim sentiment and giving law enforcement the ability to legally harass Muslims.
Currently, Ahmed Mohamed is waiting out his suspension from school before he's allowed to return to class. Ahmed says that he's done sharing his projects with his teachers and will never bring another to school.
The day after Mohamed was released from police custody, MarArthur High principal Daniel Cummings sent a letter home with students in which he explained that the decision to detain the boy was made to "protect" other students.
"While we do not have any threats to our school community, we want you to be aware that the Irving Police Department responded to a suspicious-looking item on campus yesterday," Cummings wrote. "We are pleased to report that after the police department’s assessment, the item discovered at school did not pose a threat to your child’s safety."
This post has been updated with comment from Irving School District.