In modern day America, we have been so consumed by hypersensitivity that it has caused us to lose our ability to use critical judgment in serious situations. It has gotten so bad that, nowadays, a student can find themselves being taken out of class and put in handcuffs if they appear to be doing something suspicious.
This is not an exaggeration, but rather the unfortunate reality that a high school student from Irving, Texas had to endure on Monday, Sept. 13. The student, Ahmed Mohamed, found himself arrested after coming to school with a homemade clock that drew suspicion from his teacher.
The news of his arrest has led to an outpouring of sympathy and support for Mohamed across social media, with many accusing MacArthur High School and the local police department of mistreating the 14-year-old boy due to the fact that he is Muslim. Thanks to overreaction from both the school and the media, a situation that could have had a much simpler solution has ended up being blown out-of-proportion, leaving an innocent boy in a whirlwind of controversy he certainly did not deserve.
When looking back on the turn of events, Mohamed created a clock that was comprised of a circuit board with wires leading to a red, digital display. He brought the clock to his high school engineering class with the hopes of impressing his teacher. Mohamed claims that when he showed his engineering teacher the clock, the teacher was impressed but said that he should not let any other teachers see his homemade device. However, when the device went off during an English class, Mohamed had no choice but to reveal the clock to another teacher.
Later in the day, Mohamed was pulled out of class by his principal and five police officers and was taken to a room where he was questioned for about an hour and a half.
Recounting the experience in an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, Mohamed said he asked if he could call his parents. “They told me, ‘No, you can’t call your parents. You’re in the middle of an interrogation at the moment.’ They asked me a couple of times, ‘Is it a bomb?’ and I answered a couple of times, ‘It’s a clock.’ I felt like I was a criminal,” Mohamed said. “I felt like I was a terrorist.”
After the interrogation, Ahmed was taken to a juvenile detention center, where he was later released into the custody of his parents. No charges were pressed against him, but MacArthur High School has punished the boy for his alleged misconduct by suspending him for two weeks. Mohamed and his family are currently looking for a new high school to which he could transfer.
When the news broke about Mohamed’s interrogation and arrest, many quickly jumped to the conclusion that the boy was targeted because of his Muslim heritage, especially given his last name. Mohamed’s father, Mohamed Elhassan Mohamed had much to say about the situation. “My son’s name is Mohamed—people just think Muslims are terrorists but we are peaceful. We are not that way,” his father said.
Hilary Clinton, no stranger to controversy herself, tweeted something that generalizes what most people feel about this situation; “Assumptions and fear don’t keep us safe—they hold us back…”
The problem with everyone blaming this arrest on racial profiling is that it goes back to what I said before; hypersensitivity in modern day society is clouding our ability to fairly assess a situation. Having seen the homemade clock through images posted on social media, I can say that I could understand the school’s teachers and administration being suspicious about the homemade device.
The clock, which is contained in a suitcase, looks like a ticking time bomb you would see in a typical spy, thriller or action film. You also have to consider the fact that almost every month we hear about an act of mass violence occurring at a school or college campus. With that in mind, imagine being the teacher who saw his clock and heard it go off with a loud beeping sound. The teacher and the school have to be responsible for the safety and well-being of all their students and they had the right to check and make sure the clock was not a device intended to cause harm.
The real problem was not the fact that they were concerned about the clock, but how far they went in their treatment of Mohamed. All the teacher had to do was bring Mohamed to the principal’s office, ask him about the clock, have a police officer come to the school to make sure the device was safe and simply advise Mohamed that it was not appropriate to bring a suspicious-looking device like his clock into the school. There was no need for five police officers to interrogate the boy for an hour and a half, nor was there any need for him to be arrested and not be allowed to call his parents. The authorities let their concerns for safety take the investigation way too far, which has resulted in the school and the local police being accused of having prejudice towards Muslims.
If there is any silver lining to a situation overblown by hypersensitivity, it is that an aspiring engineer has gotten his work commended and recognized across the country. President Barack Obama invited Mohamed to the White House to see his homemade device. Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, wrote a post on his website commending Mohamed’s ambition and inviting him to the headquarters of the company. MIT astrophysicist Chanda Prescod-Weinstein sent a tweet to Mohamed inviting him to the university, which is especially meaningful for Mohamed as MIT is his ‘dream school.’
The fact that things have worked out for Mohamed should not let us ignore the fact that the whole situation could have been avoided if the initial investigation of the homemade clock was handled with rational thinking instead of overbearing paranoia. The media themselves are not blameless either as they played a pivotal role in manipulating the fallout of this incident.
It is the responsibility of the media to always give a fair and balanced account of an event instead of twisting the narrative to ‘spice up’ the story. That way, the public will not be coming to definite conclusions about a story without fully understanding all of the details of what actually happened. It is okay to be aware of the possible consequences our actions and inactions can have on others, but being too sensitive about those consequences can lead to a massive public outcry over a 14-year-old student being put in handcuffs.