Crime can result from art for even the most innocent teenagers, according to the police officers who arrested 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed on September 16, 2015 for creating a homemade clock.
Starting his freshman year at MacArthur High School in Irving, Texas, Ahmed had dreams of becoming an engineer and attending a top college in the United States. Relatives and friends all stated that he was an intelligent boy, with strong engineering skills for his age. On the fateful Monday morning of his arrest, Ahmed showed up to school wielding a digital clock that he had made from a pencil case, wishing to show his achievement to his instructors.
Instead of being impressed, one of his teachers called the authorities, and Ahmed was arrested. After being released from the holding center, Ahmed stated, “They told me that I committed the crime of a hoax bomb, a fake bomb.” Irving Police spokesman Chief James McLellan told news networks, “We attempted to question the juvenile about what [the object] was and he would simply only tell us that it was a clock.” Ahmed did so because it was, in fact, only a clock. Another spokesman, Chief Larry Boyd, argued that Ahmed should have been more explicit in his description, but stated that authorities determined that he did not intend to alarm anybody and the “homemade experiment” was harmless. Ahmed was suspended for three days, but the punishment was innocuous as he withdrew from the school soon after this incident.
Ahmed’s arrest over the invention of his clock became a sensation overnight, and a surge of attention was drawn to the implied racial profiling and discrimination behind the incident. All over social media, people were posting their support with the hashtag #IStandWithAhmed; among some of the supporters were President Obama, Hillary, Clinton, and Mark Zuckerberg. Zuckerberg wrote to the teenager on Facebook, “Having the skill and ambition to build something cool should lead to applause, not arrest. The future belongs to people like Ahmed… Ahmed, if you ever want to come by Facebook, I’d love to meet you. Keep building.”
This was not the only invitation Ahmed received as a result of this incident either. Ahmed was also invited to the White House by Obama himself, and was solicited by Google and the United Nations to attend special events for the bright youth of the United States. As a result, Ahmed has been able to travel to Mecca, New York, Sudan, and Qatar over the past 2 months.
Despite the positive feedback Ahmed received from large corporations, the family has recently publicized their demand of $15 million from his former school and the entire town of Irving, Texas for the incident. The family’s attorneys seek $5 million from the school district and $10 million from the city of Irving and threaten to file a civil suit if they do not receive a reply within the next 60 days. Ahmed’s lawyer insists that despite all of the events that he has been able to attend as a result of the incident, his arrest still caused “severe psychological trauma;” one of his lawyers, Kelly Hollingsworth, stated that “Ahmed clearly was singled out because of his race, national origin and religion.”
Furthermore, the actions of the Irving police department and the school have made it nearly impossible for the Mohamed family to have any chance of being truly safe and secure in their current residence. Since Ahmed’s arrest, the family has received threatening e-mails and has recently been forced to move houses after their address was made public.
The public’s strong reactions, both positive and negative, reflect the current views of race and religion in the United States; Ahmed’s arrest because of a “hoax bomb” can only be categorized as a crime of racism and discrimination, the result of a severe stereotype placed on him because of his religion and the color of his skin. To detain a 14-year-old boy for his invention of a clock is to allow these stereotypes to negatively impact authority’s judgment and assessment of a serious (or in this case, not serious) incident. Many argue that had Ahmed been white and not a part of the Islamic faith, there would not have been a problem with the clock in the first place. The problem was not with the creation of the clock, but rather who created the clock.
By making a clock out of household items, Ahmed unintentionally sparked a movement in the United States that reflected the country’s debated positions on Islam, immigration, and ethnicity. John Earnest, the White House press secretary, stated, “This episode is a good illustration of how pernicious stereotypes can prevent even good-hearted people who have dedicated their lives to educating young people from doing the good work that they set out to do.” However, Ahmed’s arrest and detainment have not stopped him from inventing and creating. When asked if he had any message for other aspiring engineers like him, he said, “Go for it. Don’t let people change who you are.”