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Texas Teen Goes From the Big House to the White House

Ahmed Mohamed, 14, of Irving, Texas, is not a criminal. He does not know how to make a bomb nor does he want to. He is simply a curious teenager interested in gadgets and built a homemade clock. Proud of his invention, he made the mistake of bringing it to school to show his friends and engineering teacher, only to be arrested for it and is now at the center of a national controversy.

New to MacArthur High, the 9th grader “has a talent for tinkering – he constructs his own radios and once made a Bluetooth speaker as a gift for his friend – and he wanted to show his new teachers what he could do,” according to the Washington Post. On Monday, September 14th, he went to school with his homemade digital clock, which he built with a power supply, digital display, small circuit board and small metal case decorated with a tiger hologram. It took him 20 minutes to put together the night before. He showed his engineering teacher who said that it was really nice but advised him not to show it to any other teachers. However, when the clock started to beep during his English class, his teacher asked to see it. She told the teen that it looked like a bomb, to which he responded, “It doesn’t look like a bomb to me.”

The clock was confiscated and authorities were notified, unbeknownst to Mohamed, who continued to go about his school day. But in his sixth period, he was pulled out of class by the principal and a police officer. He was questioned and interrogated, his stuff was searched and they took his tablet along with his invention.  Five different officers asked him why he had been trying to build a bomb and his principal threatened to expel him.

Mohamed was taken to police headquarters, handcuffed and fingerprinted. He told MSNBC that, “I felt like a criminal, I felt like I was a terrorist. I felt like all of the names I was called,” explaining that in middle school he was taunted because of his race and religion, and called a terrorist and a bomb maker. During questioning, officers repeatedly brought up his last name (his family is from Sudan and is Muslim). When he tried to call his father, Mohamed was told he couldn’t speak to his parents until after the interrogation was over. They asked if he had “plastic explosives,” according to the Washington Post.

Mohamed, who was arrested on the charge of bringing a ‘hoax bomb’ to school, was released into his parent’s custody after an hour and a half of questioning.  According to a police report, “three teachers from MacArthur High School were listed as complainants against Ahmed — they all thought he’d been trying to build a bomb. When the object was presented to him during questioning, a statement from the police explains that Ahmed ‘kept maintaining it was a clock’ and ‘offered no broader explanation.’ The same police statement points out that the clock “could reasonably be mistaken as a device if left in a bathroom or under a car’,” according to Gizmodo.com. Though the charges have since been dropped, Mohamed was suspended from school for three days.

Would the school and the police have reacted in the same way had Mohamed been a white teenager named Matt? His father, along with many in their community, doesn’t think so. Ahmed’s father blamed it on Islamophobia,
telling the Dallas Morning News that “Because his name is Mohamed and because of September 11th, I think my son got mistreated.”

This sentiment has been echoed across the country and the story garnered national attention. Within two days of the incident, #IStandWithMohamed began trending on social media as support for the teen began pouring in. Suddenly, he was at the forefront of a social media whirlwind that even the President could not ignore. According to the New York Times, “Cool clock, Ahmed,” President Obama said on Twitter, “Want to bring it to the White House? We should inspire more kids like you to like science. It’s what makes America great.” Mr. Obama’s staff invited Ahmed to the White House for Astronomy Night on Oct. 19, an event bringing together scientists, engineers, astronauts, teachers and students to spend a night stargazing from the South Lawn.” He also received support from Hillary Clinton and Marc Zuckerberg, along with celebrities like Aziz Ansari, Janelle Monae and Questlove from The Roots. He was invited to be a VIP at Google’s Science Fair, during which he visited the finalist’s booths and mingled with other students. Twitter even asked if he wanted a job as an intern.

In a blog post, editor-in-chief of Scientific American and head judge of the science fair, Marietta DiChristina wrote, “It’s imperative for us to support and encourage our young people to explore and challenge the world around them through scientific discovery. Which is why we’re especially glad that Ahmed Mohamed … took us up on our invite to attend this year’s event. Curious young scientists, inventors and builders like him should be encouraged and empowered.”

Not everyone feels the same way. Various conservative websites suggested that Mohamed and his family don’t belong here, directing racial epithets at the teen.

In a statement to NBC, Lesley Weaver, the spokeswoman for the Irving Independent School District wrote, “We always ask our students and staff to immediately report if they observe any suspicious items and/or suspicious behavior… We will always take necessary precautions to protect our students and keep our school community as safe as possible.” However, it is school protocol to evacuate the building if a bomb is thought to be on the premises, so why didn’t that happen? And if they knew it wasn’t a real bomb, then why were the police called? These are just a few of the many questions surrounding this case, yet Irving Police Chief Larry Boyd has held steadfast in his decision to detain and arrest Mohammed.

Mohamed decided not to return to MacArthur High and is looking towards the future. According to the New York Times, “Before mentioning that he would love to present his inventions to celebrity investors on the ‘Shark Tank’ television show, Ahmed was asked if he had any message for other young gadget-builders. ‘Go for it,’ he said, ‘Don’t let people change who you are’.”

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