Yesterday, a 14-year-old boy named Ahmed Mohamed was arrested for building a clock and bringing it to school to show to a teacher.
Ahmed, a high school student whose hobby is inventing and tinkering, made his small clock by wiring together a circuit board, power supply, and display, and placing the whole thing inside a pencil case. But when he showed his homemade clock to a teacher, their response was lukewarm and they advised him not to show anyone else.
After the clock beeped in the middle of an English class, Ahmed showed it to his English teacher, who said that the pencil-case-clock looked like a bomb and kept it. Later in the day, Ahmed was pulled out of class by the Irving, Texas school’s principal and a police officer and arrested. He was later released into his parents’ custody, but he was suspended from school for three days and may yet be charged with building a hoax bomb. The school later released the following statement:
The takeaway message from this letter, in the last large paragraph, requests that students not bring prohibited items to school and that they report suspicious items or behavior. However, it is unclear what exactly about Ahmed’s creation was prohibited or what about his behavior was suspicious: is an interest in engineering suspicious? Is a homemade clock prohibited? This case is strikingly similar to that of Kiera Wilmot, a young African-American student whose homemade rocket got her expelled and arrested. In both cases, a young person of color faced massive overreaction to small homegrown science projects: their interest in STEM brought them into racially-charged police situations.
More hearteningly, as in Kiera Wilmot’s case, scientists and others (and the President) are rallying around Ahmed’s cause and thinking actively about what they can do to create a more supportive environment for students from underrepresented minority groups. Much of this thought is happening on Twitter, and I’ve aggregated some of the tweets on Storify here.
Tinkering and building is a keystone of any young scientist’s education. The sort of ingenuity and determination displayed by Ahmed should be encouraged, not quashed by paranoia. I stand with Ahmed because I want the future of science to be filled with curious and dedicated minds like his.
UPDATE: No charges will be filed against Ahmed.