Making while brown: Texas schoolchild arrested for bringing homemade clock to school UPDATED

Ahmed Mohamed is a gifted, driven maker-kid who's in the ninth grade at MacArthur High in Irving, Texas. When he showed the homemade clock he soldered and pieced together to his engineering teacher, he was told to keep it in his bag. But when the alarm went off in English class, his teacher accused him of bringing a bomb to school.

He told the teacher, and then the principal, and then the police offers who'd been summoned, that it was a digital clock he'd made and brought to school to show as evidence of the kinds of things he was making. He'd loved robotics club in middle school and was hoping to connect to a similar peer group in his new high school.

He was arrested, handcuffed, and paraded through the school with an officer on each arm, wearing his NASA shirt.

When he was brought before the school police, the officer who arrested him looked at him and said, "Yup. That’s who I thought it was." Ahmed Mohamed and his family (and the Council on Islamic American Relations) believe that the officer was referring to the color of his skin and his name.

Police spokesman James McLellan admits that Mohamed always maintained that the device was a clock, not a bomb, "but there was no broader explanation." When the Dallas Morning News asked him what "broader explanation" he was looking for, McLellan said, “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?"

They did take him into custody.

Mohamed was booked, fingerprinted and taken to juvenile detention. He has been suspended for three days.

The Mohamed family came to America from Sudan. Ahmed's father, Mohamed Elhassan Mohamed, is a frequent candidate for president in Sudanese elections.

Anil Dash is collecting suggestions for ways of helping Ahmed Mohamed. I've seen proposals to buy him a life membership to a local makerspace, which seems like a good start.

Update: Irving High School Principal Daniel Cummings sent an unrepentant letter to parents yesterday, urging parents to tell their children to immediately report "suspicious items."

“He just wants to invent good things for mankind,” said Ahmed’s father, Mohamed Elhassan Mohamed, who immigrated from Sudan and occasionally returns there to run for president. “But because his name is Mohamed and because of Sept. 11, I think my son got mistreated.”

He’s not the only one who thinks so. Not much for local politics, Mohamed wasn’t paying attention over the summer, when Mayor Beth Van Duyne became a national celebrity in anti-Islamic circles, fueling rumors in speeches that the religious minority was plotting to usurp American laws.

But the Council on American-Islamic Relations took note.

“This all raises a red flag for us: how Irving’s government entities are operating in the current climate,” said Alia Salem, who directs the council’s North Texas chapter and has spoken to lawyers about Ahmed’s arrest.

“We’re still investigating,” she said, “but it seems pretty egregious.”

Meanwhile, Ahmed is sitting home in his bedroom, tinkering with old gears and electrical converters, pronouncing words like “ethnicity” for what sounds like the first time.

He’s vowed never to take an invention to school again.

Irving 9th-grader arrested after taking homemade clock to school: 'So you tried to make a bomb?' [Avi Selk/Dallas Morning News]

(Image: Vernon Bryant/Dallas Morning News)

Notable Replies

  1. With this attitudes today, I wonder where do they think they will get their engineers tomorrow.

    Same goes for backyard pyrotechnics. Mind the biographies of the Apollo Project engineers who often started their career with homemade rockets.

    Terrornoia today is a national security risk for tomorrow.

  2. I know it's too much to ask - but what about a trace of technical aptitude on the part of a teacher or police officer? Do they need to call in a bomb specialist to point out that you can't have a bomb without some kind of explosive? I'm imaging his teacher and the police as scared chimpanzees wearing uniforms and jumping up at down in anxiety and fear at the site of a circuit board. Would it freak them out if they looked inside as computer or television, or the phone in their pocket and saw that it was filled with "bomb"? God help us, this level of stupidity is dangerous...

  3. Lampy says:

    I'm the chairman of the electronics/robotics committee of the Dallas Makerspace. We are looking to get this fine young man a family membership so he has a place to show off his electronics skills to an appreciative audience. If you would like to support this goal, please consider making a donation to the Maker Fellowship Fund - http://dallasmakerspace.org/maker-fellowship-fund/

    Please place a note in the PayPal paymnet that it is for Ahmed's membership

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