Fourteen-year-old Ahmed Mohamed is an inventor with a knack for electronics. He builds radios, repairs his own go-kart, and experiments with circuit boards in his spare time. Ahmed takes engineering classes as a freshman at MacArthur High School in Irving, TX, and spent middle school as an active member of the robotics club. On Monday, the 9th grader was arrested inside the halls of his school for bringing one of his inventions — a homemade clock — to show his teacher.
After showing his engineering teacher the digital clock, which was a simply constructed gadget containing a power supply, circuit board, and digital display, Ahmed stored the invention in his backpack at his teacher's behest. When it beeped in his English class, however, the freshman showed the clock to his teacher and offered an explanation. Instead of listening to his explanation, the English teacher told Ahmed: "it looks like a bomb." She confiscated the clock, and Ahmed was later pulled out of classes by his principal.
Sporting a NASA shirt at the time of his arrest, Ahmed was detained and interrogated before he was allowed to contact his parents.
"They took me to a room filled with five officers in which they interrogated me and searched through my stuff and took my tablet and my invention," described Ahmed of what happened afterward. "They were like, 'So you tried to make a bomb?' I told them 'no, I was trying to make a clock.'" A police officer responded: "It looks like a movie bomb to me."
Despite the fact that Ahmed maintained that his invention was a clock, not a bomb, the police continued to question him and insinuate that the 14-year-old was designing bombs in his spare time. "We have no information that he claimed it was a bomb," admitted Irving police spokesman James McLellan to the Dallas Morning News. "He kept maintaining it was a clock, but there was no broader explanation."
After a couple hours of questioning, police cuffed and led Ahmed to a juvenile detention center where he was allowed to contact his parents. He also received three days' suspension from the MacArthur School principal. School administration later sent out a message to students' guardians, assuring them that there was no threat to their children's safety but encouraging them to discuss "prohibited items" with their kids.
As news of Ahmed's arrest spreads, people worldwide are infuriated at what is being interpreted as racism and Islamophobia. People all over the world are standing in solidarity with the high schooler, using the hashtag #IStandWithAhmed to show their support on social media. Andy Ihnatko, technology journalist for the Chicago Sun-Times, wrote an essay chronicling his own experience with high school invention and creativity, titled "I'm Ahmed. Except I'm Not Brown." Bobak Ferdowsi, a NASA systems engineer, tweeted: "I can't imagine if [sic] be working NASA today if anything like this had ever happened to me." Even President Barack Obama reached out to Ahmed over social media!
Cool clock, Ahmed. Want to bring it to the White House? We should inspire more kids like you to like science. It's what makes America great.
— President Obama (@POTUS) September 16, 2015
According to the teen's Twitter updates, his family is meeting with a lawyer today to dispute the possible "hoax bomb" charges lobbed at him by Irving police. In the meantime, we can only hope that this demoralizing event won't dampen Ahmed's spirit for invention — we need more enthusiastic, driven engineers in this world! We stand with Ahmed . . . do you?